Today in History: Iran Hostage Crisis Rescue Mission Ends in Disaster
by M.C. Millman
On April 24, 1980, a military rescue mission for American hostages held by Iranians failed miserably, leaving eight U.S. service members dead from a plane and helicopter collision.
The Iranian Hostage Crisis began on November 4, 1979, during Jimmy Carter's presidency. Islamic fundamentalists stormed the U.S. embassy in Tehran that day in an act of revolution against the pro-American Shah of Iran. The Iranians took more than 50 American hostages for 444 days.
According to the Office of the Historian, "The Iran hostage crisis undermined Carter's conduct of foreign policy. The crisis dominated the headlines and news broadcasts, making the Administration look weak and ineffectual."
Six months into the Iranian Hostage Crisis, Carter arranged a military rescue mission. Unfortunately, three out of eight helicopters failed, leading to the cancelation of the mission. When the helicopters withdrew, one collided with a transport plane. Eight service members died, and five were injured in the accident.
According to Britannica, Secretary of State Cyrus Vance, who had opposed the mission, resigned in protest after this mission. The hostages were moved into new, concealed locations.
In May 1980, the U.S. instituted an economic embargo against Iran, which did little to help release the hostages. However, the Iran-Iraq war, which began in September 1980, along with the embargo, wore away at the Iranian economy. As written in Britannica, when the Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Ali Rajaʾi visited the United Nations in October, many world leaders told him that Iran could not expect support in the Iraq conflict as long as it held the U.S. hostages.
After intense negotiations, the hostages were finally released on January 20, 1981, minutes after the inauguration of the new U.S. president, Ronald Reagan and 270 days after the failed rescue mission.