On this day in history, a U.S. Navy Captain commanding the guided-missile cruiser Vincennes in the Strait of Hormuz mistook Iranian Airbus A300 for an F-14 fighter jet.
Captain Will Rogers III ordered the American SM-2 surface-to-air missile to strike the plane, killing all 290 passengers, including 66 children.
A press conference held by Adm. William Crowe, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, some seven weeks after the event, claimed that Iran Air’s pilot bore the blame for the incident, even though all the allegations made about the incident by the Americans had been proven to be false.
When Iran asked the U.N. Security Council to censure the U.S., Vice President George H.W. Bush, then running for president, stated:
I will never apologize for the United States – I don’t care what the facts are.”
In 1992, Adm. Crowe admitted on ABC’s Nightline that the he knew the Vincennes was in Iranian waters, not international waters, and that the Vincennes captain was regarded as overly aggressive. (Rogers was, however, awarded America’s Legion of Merit medal by President George H.W. Bush the next year.)
Finally, in 1996, President Bill Clinton’s administration agreed to pay compensation to the Iranian government and the families of the victims if Tehran would drop its case against the U.S in the International Court of Justice.