To rescue American diplomats in Iran, the US tried several things – all with disastrous consequences.
Fed up with American interference in their country, Iranian students stormed the US Embassy in Teheran on November 4, 1979. The 52 hostages they took would go through hell for the next 444 days.
The US government retaliated by imposing sanctions on Iran and by supporting its arch-enemy – Iraq. Americans blamed President Jimmy Carter because it happened on his watch. And since he planned to run for a second term, he had to act.
The hostage takers demanded the return of the Shah, who had fled to the US. They also wanted America to apologize for the 1953 overthrow of their democratically-elected prime minister, Mosaddegh. Finally, they wanted the US to unfreeze Iranian assets.
Given the patriotic fervor that resulted in America, Carter refused. He instead approved of Operation Eagle Claw in April 1980 – a failed rescue attempt which came at the cost of eight dead American soldiers.
Going back to the drawing board, the military came up with a second plan – Operation Credible Sport. It involved modifying three YMC-130H Lockheed Hercules aircraft with rocket thrusters that would allow them to take off and land in a very small space.
That small space was to be the Shahid Shiroudi Football Stadium near the former US embassy where the hostages were being kept. As to how they’d get from there to the embassy, rescue the hostages, and take them back to the stadium, was yet to be determined because they first had to test the planes.
That was done at the Eglin Air Force Base on October 29 of the same year. The rockets worked, and they fitted onto the planes perfectly, so no problem there. Unfortunately, as the test pilot was landing the plane, he fired the rockets before his wheels touched the ground.
This forced the plane to crash on the tarmac, tearing off its starboard wing and causing a fire. Fortunately, no one died or was seriously hurt.
Even more fortunate, the hostages were released the following year. But to make sure Carter got no credit, the Iranians waited till Reagan took office.