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This Day In History: The Iran Hostage Rescue Mission Ended In Disaster

April 24, 2017

This day in history, April 24, 1980, an attempt to end the Iran hostage crisis by rescuing 52 embassy staff held captive at the Embassy of the United States in Tehran ended in failure. Eight U.S. servicemen were killed and no hostages were rescued.

With the Iran hostage crisis reaching its sixth month without a rescue and all diplomatic appeals to the Iranian government ending in failure, President Jimmy Carter ordered Operation Eagle Claw, a military operation intended to save the hostages. During the operation, three of the eight helicopters failed. During planning, it was decided that the mission would be aborted if fewer than six helicopters remained, despite only four being absolutely necessary. The mission was canceled at the staging area in Iran as a result, but during the withdrawal, one of the retreating helicopters crashed into one of six C-130 transport planes, killing eight soldiers and injuring five. The next day, President Carter gave a press conference in which he took full responsibility for the tragedy. The hostages were not released for another 270 days.

On November 4, 1979, the Iranian hostage crisis began when militant Iranian students, outraged that the U.S. government had allowed the ousted shah of Iran to travel to the U.S. for medical treatment, seized the U.S. embassy in Tehran. The Ayatollah Khomeini, Iran’s political and religious leader, took over the hostage situation and agreed to release non-U.S. captives as well as female and minority Americans, citing these groups as among the people oppressed by the U.S. government. The remaining 52 captives were held hostage for the next 444 days.

In November 1980, Carter lost the presidential election to Republican Ronald Reagan, but soon after, with the assistance of Algerian intermediaries, successful negotiations began between the United States and Iran. On the day of Reagan’s inauguration, January 20, 1981, the United States freed almost $8 billion in frozen Iranian assets, and the 52 hostages were released.