x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Time Frame: the Iran Air tragedy

The loved ones of passengers on Iran Air flight 655, which was shot down by a US navy ship, anxiously wait for news at Dubai airport on July 3, 1988.

Iranians gather at Dubai airport on July 3, 1988 awaiting news of relatives aboard an Iranian airliner shot down by a U.S. missile over the Arabian Gulf. Reuters
Iranians gather at Dubai airport on July 3, 1988 awaiting news of relatives aboard an Iranian airliner shot down by a U.S. missile over the Arabian Gulf. Reuters

The pain and anxiety is etched on these faces waiting at Dubai airport for loved ones who will never arrive.

Iran Air 655 took off as normal from Bandar Abbas airport on the morning of July 3, 1988, on what should have been a routine 28-minute flight to Dubai.

The Airbus 300 was carrying 16 crew members and 290 passengers, the majority of whom were Iranians, but also 10 citizens of the UAE and 16 from India and Pakistan.

It was a time of tension in the Arabian Gulf. Two months earlier the frigate USS Samuel B Roberts had hit an Iranian sea mine and barely six months before, the guided missile frigate USS Stark had been struck by an Iranian missile, killing 37 American sailors.

Crossing the Strait of Hormuz, the aircraft was climbing to 4,300 metres before beginning its descent into Dubai when it vanished from the radar.

The aircraft had been struck by two surface-to-air missiles from the USS Vincennes. Everyone on board perished, including at least 60 children.

Although the Iran Air jet had been transmitting a "friend or foe" transponder signal, this had not been picked up by the Vincennes, which challenged the flight on military frequencies. Questions remain about the US navy's account of events, but in 1996, the American government issued a statement of regret for the loss of life and paid reparations but still refused to apologise.

The accident is the ninth worst in aviation history and the biggest loss of life in this region.

Time Frame is a series that opens a window into the nation's past. Readers are invited to make contributions to yourpics@thenational.ae