Accidentally shot-down passenger planes: Iran Flight 655, 1988

I realize that Wikipedia may be not be the best source for controversial topics.  Yet it pretty clear (as least to me), that neither the US in 1988 nor the Ukrainian rebels in 2014 deliberately shot down a passenger plane.  

So I include the introductory summary of how the 1988 episode turned out, so that we may have something to compare things to in the case of MH17:

Iran Air Flight 655 was an Iran Air civilian passenger flight from Tehran to Dubai that was shot down by the United States Navy guided missile cruiser USS Vincennes on 3 July 1988. The accident 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 the Vincennes.

All 290 on board, including 66 children and 16 crew, died. This accident ranks seventh among the deadliest disasters in aviation history, tenth if including the 9/11 attacks, which includes ground casualties; the incident retains the highest death toll of any aviation incident in the Persian Gulf and the highest death toll of any incident involving an Airbus aircraft anywhere in the world. The Vincennes had entered Iranian territorial waters after one of its helicopters drew warning fire from Iranian speedboats operating within Iranian territorial limits.

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, and operators of Vincennes mistook for Mode II.

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. The Iranian F-14s had been supplied by manufacturer Grummann in an air-to-air configuration only and had no known anti-ship capabilities.

As of 1993, the United States had not apologized to Iran. In 1996, the United States and Iran reached “an agreement in full and final settlement of all disputes, differences, claims, counterclaims” relating to the incident at the International Court of Justice, including a recognition of the incident in the form of “…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 but agreed to pay US$61.8 million, amounting to $213,103.45 per passenger, in compensation to the families of the Iranian victims.

Background: In 1984 the war between Iraq and Iran had expanded to include air attacks against oil tankers and merchant shipping of neighboring countries. The Flight 655 incident occurred a year after the Iraqi Air Force attack on the U.S. Navy guided-missile frigate USS Stark on 17 May 1987, which killed 37 American sailors.

U.S. naval forces had also exchanged gunfire with Iranian gunboats in late 1987, and the U.S. Navy guided-missile frigate USS Samuel B. Roberts had struck an Iranian sea mine in April 1988.

Two months before the incident the US had engaged in Operation Praying Mantis, resulting in the sinking of the Iranian frigate Sahand. Tensions were therefore high in the Strait of Hormuz at the time of the incident with Flight 655…

Keep this in mind as the Netherlands is now talking of war crimes: Netherlands opens war crimes investigation into airliner downing:

(Reuters) – Dutch prosecutors have opened an investigation into the crash of Malaysia Airlines flight MH-17 on suspicion of murder, war crimes and intentionally downing an airliner, a spokesman said on Monday. Based on the Law on International Crimes, the Netherlands can prosecute any individual who committed a war crime against a Dutch citizen. The 298 people who were killed when the plane was downed over Ukraine included 193 Dutch citizens.

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The extremely uncooperative actions of the Ukrainian rebels and Putin are no doubt making the situation far worse.  Unlike the situation with the USA and Iran, there was no war lurking in the background.

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