Iran Air
Flight 655 was an Iran Air passenger flight from Tehran to Dubai. On 3 July
1988, the aircraft operating on this route was shot down by the United States
Navy guided missile cruiser USS Vincennes under the command of William C.
Rogers III. The incident took place in Iranian airspace, over Iran’s
territorial waters in the Persian Gulf, and on the flight’s usual flight path.
The aircraft, an Airbus A300 B2-203, was destroyed by SM-2MR surface-to-air
missiles fired from Vincennes. All 290 people on board died. The cruiser
Vincennes had entered Iranian territorial waters after one of its helicopters
drew warning fire from Iranian speedboats operating within Iranian territorial

According to
the United States government, the crew incorrectly identified the Iranian
Airbus A300 as an attacking F-14A Tomcat fighter, a plane made in the United
States and operated at that time by only two forces worldwide, the United
States Navy and the Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force. While the Iranian F-14s
had been supplied by manufacturer Grumman in an air-to-air configuration only
in the 1970s, the crew of Vincennes had been briefed when entering the region
that the Iranian F-14s carried unguided bombs as well as Maverick missiles and
unguided rockets.  The Vincennes crew made ten attempts to contact the
crew of the flight on military and civilian radio frequencies, but received no
response. The International Civil Aviation Organization said that the flight
crew should have been monitoring the civilian frequency.

According to
the Iranian government, Vincennes negligently shot down the civilian aircraft:
the airliner was making IFF squawks in Mode III (not Mode II used by Iranian
military planes), a signal that identified it as a civilian craft.[9][10] The
event generated a great deal of criticism of the United States. Some analysts
blamed the captain of Vincennes, who had entered Iran’s waters, for reckless
and aggressive behavior in a tense and dangerous environment.

In 1996, the
United States and Iran reached a settlement at the International Court of
Justice which included the statement “…the United States recognized the aerial
incident of 3 July 1988 as a terrible human tragedy and expressed deep regret
over the loss of lives caused by the incident…”. As part of the settlement, the
United States did not admit legal liability or formally apologize to Iran but
agreed to pay on an ex gratia basis US$61.8 million, amounting to $213,103.45
per passenger, in compensation to the families of the Iranian victims.

Iran Air continues
to use flight number 655 on the Tehran to Dubai route as a memorial to the
victims. This event ranks eighth among the deadliest disasters in aviation
history; the incident retains the record for highest death toll of any aviation
incident in the Persian Gulf.

Declassified Documents

Investigation into the Circumstances Surrounding the Downing of Iran Air Flight
655 on 3 July 1988
[153 Pages, 5.1MB]

Analysis of Complex Dynamic Systems: The Case of the USS Vincennes
, June
1992 [263 Pages, 8.6MB] – Recent studies on the Vincennes incident
have centered around the impact of stress in decision making. This thesis,
which is a case analysis of a historical event, offers another perspective
through the use of organizational and contextual factors as a means to
ascertain what happened when the USS vincennes shot down Iran Air Flight 655.
Data extracted from the unclassified investigation report by Rear Admiral
William M. Fogarty and the transcripts from the Senate Hearing before the
Committee on Armed Services were analyzed quantitatively, through regression
and correlation analysis in conjunction with a graphical analysis and
interpretation, in an effort to resolve the lack of reconciliation between
system and recollected data by witnesses. A comparative analysis was also
conducted between these archival sources of data and interview data from
Captain Will Rogers, 111, former Commanding Officer of the Vincennes.
Additionally, to identify causal factors that led to the outcome, further
analysis using the Events Path Model, Dynamic Systems Model, and Cybernetic
Model of Mutual Causality was conducted. The findings of the quantitative
analysis portion supports Captain Rogers’ argument, which included a track
number issue and the existence of another aircraft…. Command and Control, C2,
Cybernetics, Organizational Learning, Vincennes Incident, Complex Dynamic
Systems, Negative/Positive Feedback, Systems Analysis, Garbage Can Model,
Mutual Causality, Wholistic Approach to Change, Decision Making, Ambiguity.

Special Thanks

for the background information above.