ITN Archive

On 28 April 1980, ITN's Jon Snow reported from the crash site in the Iranian desert where America's daring attempt to rescue 52 hostages being held in the US embassy in Tehran ended in fatal disaster. Operation Eagle Claw saw six helicopters and two transport aircraft deployed to a staging zone codenamed Desert One, over 400 miles from the Iranian capital. The mission was aborted at this initial stage, however, after the aircraft were caught in a sandstorm and encountered technical problems. Things went from bad to worse after American generals advised US President Jimmy Carter to abort the mission; while trying to leave Desert One, one of the few remaining working helicopters collided with a transport aircraft carrying servicemen as well as the fuel intended to supply the mission. Eight men died in the resulting fire, while the rest were hurriedly extracted. The failure of the operation was described by Iran's revolutionary leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, as an "act of God" in support of the Islamic Revolution. To the rest of the world, it was a humiliating failure for the Carter administration. President Carter himself saw the catastrophe as one of the main factors behind his election defeat to Ronald Reagan in November that year.