Iranian second flotilla admiral, Nasser Sarnevesht, who was the commander of the operations to recover the pieces of the bodies of the victims of the shoot-down of Iran Air Flight 655 by the USS Vincennes on July 3, 1988, believes that the attack had been aimed at annihilating the jet as well as all its passengers and crew members on board in the air.
The civilian aircraft, an Airbus A300-B2, was flying in the Iranian airspace over the Strait of Hormuz from the port city of Bandar Abbas to Dubai, carrying 274 passengers and 16 crew members, when the USS Vincennes fired two SM-2MR surface-to-air missiles at it, killing all the 290 on board.
In a Farsi interview with the Khabar Online News Agency, Sarnevesht has narrated the sad story of the 50-day operations he and his team carried out in the Persian Gulf to collect the unidentifiable bodies of the victims. Here are the highlights of this interview:
“The horrible incident took place at 10:17 am on July 3, 1988 [the year when the war between Iran and Iraq came to an end]. We were immediately dispatched on a mission [to the site of the incident] to perform the rescue operations. On that day, we were supposed to be sent on another mission to Shaibah Air Base [in the southern Iraqi province of Basra]; however, the mission coincided with [the declaration of] the ceasefire [between Iran and Iraq].”
“We did not require foreign assistance to collect the corpses and the debris of the plane. In addition to the two cruisers that had anchored, we had two hovercrafts, three helicopters and 80 scuba divers to carry out the operations. Recovering the bodies took 50 days. Since the bodies were dismembered, we collected their pieces. During the mission we were constantly exposed to the danger of being attacked by sharks and eagle rays. Due to the dangers involved, we had to perform the rescue operations at night,” he noted.
“Out of a total of 290, we managed to only recover the corpses of 178 victims. The US had intended to pulverize the Iranian aircraft in the air and, therefore, it had fired a surface-to-air standard missile with a range of 300 miles. Such a missile is capable of destroying a spacecraft let alone a passenger jet.”
“Iran can follow up the case, but it would be futile as they will not come back to life. We even recovered the black box from the wreckage of the aircraft and handed it over to related authorities. We transferred every single valuable item left from the crash by a helicopter [to the shore]. After examining the black box it was announced that no warning had been given by the US warship to the Iranian passenger plane. Even the flight’s pilot had not been given a chance or time to divert the plane.”
Following the missile attack, US officials claimed the warship had mistaken Iran Air Flight 655 for a warplane.