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Tale of Two Passenger Planes: MH 17 and Iran Air 655

•, Charles Scaliger

On July 3, 1988, Iran Air Flight 655, an airbus with 290 souls aboard en route from the southern Iranian city of Bandar Abbas to Dubai, was shot down by a pair of surface-to-air missiles fired by a U.S. Navy warship, the USS Vincennes. Aside from the fact that the Iran Air disaster occurred as a result of actions by the U.S. Navy, whereas the downing of MH-17 appears to have been caused by a missile fired by insurgents in eastern Ukraine allied with Russia, the parallels between the two events are striking. Both cases involved catastrophically high casualty counts, with no survivors. Both involved civilian airliners flying over active combat zones. Both involved bitter international recriminations and refusal to accept blame after the fact. And both tragedies (based on what we now know) appear to have been terrible accidents, the result of mistaken identity.

At 10:17 in the morning of July 3, 1988, Iran Air Flight 655, with a veteran pilot, U.S.-educated Mohsen Rezaian, at the helm, took off from Bandar Abbas on what was to be a brief half-hour flight over the Persian Gulf to Dubai. Because of the brevity of the flight, the flight plan called for a brief maximum cruising altitude of only about 15,000 feet. Minutes after takeoff, the plane settled into its flight path inside a 20-mile-wide air corridor known as "Amber 59" assigned to civilian flights.

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