Operation Eagle Claw impact continues today
A 919th Special Operations Wing MC-130E Combat Talon and a 1st Special Operations Wing CV-22 perform a flyover during the ceremony honoring the 30th anniversary of Operation Eagle Claw April 29 at Hurlburt Field, Fla. Eagle Claw was a complex mission to rescue U.S. citizens taken hostage in the U.S. embassy in Iran. One of the MC-130E Combat Talons involved in the mission is still active with the 919th SOW at Duke Field, Fla. Tragically, the attempt ended in the death of eight service members. (U.S. Air Force photo/Adam Duckworth.)
1st Special Operations Wing Public Affairs
5/1/2010 - HURLBURT FIELD, Fla. -- In early 1980, after more than six months of failed negotiation attempts from U.S. President James Carter asking for the release of 52 Americans held hostage at the American Embassy in Iran, U.S. military members began formulating a rescue attempt. Eight Americans, including five Hurlburt Airmen sacrificed their lives as part of the rescue operation.
After much deliberating and debating on the best possible rescue mission, planners selected a complicated two-day joint operation involving Air Force AC-130s, MC-130s, EC-130s piloted by 8th Special operations Squadron Airmen, and Navy RH-53s piloted by Marine aircrew. Operation Eagle Claw involved infiltrating the Iranian capital and offloading a special operations assault team comprised of Delta Force members into the area.
During the organizational phase, a U.S. Air Force combat controller, Maj. John Carney, infiltrated the proposed landing site, Desert One, to survey the location. There he hid infrared lights and strobes to mark the landing zone that would be used for the operation three weeks later.
As the sun set April 24, the C-130s and RH-53s took off from Masriah Island, Oman, and the USS Nimitz in the Gulf of Oman, respectively.
An MC-130 was the first aircraft to arrive at the secluded location, where shortly after landing it was greeted by two Iranian fuel trucks and a bus loaded with 43 passengers. The encounter resulted in a brief firefight and left a burning fuel truck illuminating the surrounding desert; marking the landing zone for the incoming aircraft, but also threatening to compromise Desert One.
Meanwhile, the remaining aircraft were navigating through a blinding sandstorm.
The fixed-wing aircraft arrived at Desert One with very little difficulty, but the rotary-winged helicopters faced numerous challenges.
One of the eight helicopters was forced to land and abandon the aircraft after receiving a sensor warning about a crack in the tail rotor. The crew was then picked up by another helicopter continuing towards Desert One.
Shortly after retrieving the stranded crew, the remaining seven helicopters entered the sandstorms.
While trying to navigate the storm, one of the aircrews decided to turn back after suffering erratic flight control instrumentation.
After the remaining six helicopters arrived at Desert One, one of them reported a failed second-stage hydraulics system that left it inoperable, thereby bringing the number of helicopters down to five -one less than was needed for the mission.
As Lt. Col. Edward Seiffert, rotary-wing mission leader, and other leadership discussed the situation and waited on President Carter's decision to press on, the aircraft consumed precious fuel.
The aircrew began repositioning to refuel the different aircraft, not yet knowing whether the fuel would be used to return home or to continue the mission.
While one helicopter was repositioned, the Combat Control Team marshal guiding the aircraft was blown back by the rotary wash, causing the pilot to misread his direction and continue forward. As it continued forward, the rotor struck the vertical stabilizer of one of the EC-130s, resulting in an explosion and fire that claimed the lives of eight American service members; Maj. Richard Bakke, Maj. Harold Lewis Jr., Tech. Sgt. Joel C. Mayo, Maj. Lyn McIntosh and Capt. Charles McMillan II, all from the 8th SOS, as well as Marines, Sgt. John Harvey, Cpl. George Holmes Jr., and Staff Sgt. Dewey Johnson.
After the explosion, the remaining task force members evacuated the area, and the mission was declared a failure by President Carter the following day. Almost immediately, U.S. Forces began training for a second operation, but before they could attempt another rescue, the hostages were released Jan. 20, 1981 after 444 days of captivity.
While this effort did not free any hostages, it demonstrated to the world the highest commitment to those in need and the willingness of the Air Commandos to risk and sacrifice their lives if necessary. The failed operation was seen by many as a turning point in special operations, at a time when people began investing the time, money and resources in this type of mission.
A national ceremony commemorating the valor and dedication of the rescue force was held at Arlington National Cemetery May 9, 1980. On April 25, 1982, a stained glass memorial window was dedicated at the Hurlburt Field Chapel, honoring those killed during Desert One and commemorating all Air Commandos who lost their lives while assigned to the 1st SOW.
One of the MC-130E Combat Talons is still operational at Duke Field with the 919th Special Operations Wing.