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URGENT Iran Claims U.S. Attacks Jetliner, Kills 290

July 3, 1988 GMT

MANAMA, Bahrain (AP) _ Iran said an Iran Air jetliner with about 290 passengers crashed near the Strait of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf on Sunday, and claimed the U.S. Navy shot it down while battling Iranian gunboats.

Iran said 100 bodies had been recovered by Iranian rescue teams and that everyone aboard the Airbus A300 jetliner was feared dead.

A Pentagon spokesman, Lt. Col. Arnold Williams, said in Washington that U.S. officials are ″aware of the Iranian claim, of the press reports of it, and we’re checking it out.″

The Pentagon said U.S. Navy forces in the gulf sank two Iranian patrol boats and downed an F-14 fighter jet in the Strait of Hormuz on Sunday during an exchange of fire that began at about 9:40 a.m. (2:10 a.m. EDT).

Iran’s official Islamic Republic News Agency said the Iran Air jetliner took off at 10:15 a.m. (2:45 a.m. EDT) and crashed at about 10:30 a.m. after the airliner was hit by two surface-to-air missiles fired by an American warship during the clashes.

Mike Stepp, another spokesman for the Defense Department, said American and Iranian forces exchanged fire after a U.S. helicopter was shot at by an Iranian gunship in the strait. No American casualties were reported.

U.S. Navy officials in the gulf denied the Iranian claim that U.S. forces had downed the jetliner. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity.

IRNA said the aircraft was ″downed by the U.S. fleets″ while on a flight to Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates, from the Iranian port city of Bandar Abbas.

An unidentified Iranian military source denied that U.S. forces had downed an F-14 jet, according to another IRNA report. The official said ″no Iranian F-14 jet fighters were flying over the waterway.″

Iran has U.S.-made military aircraft left over from before the Islamic revolution in 1979.

Lt. Col. Keith Schneider, another Pentagon spokesman, said of the aircraft down by U.S. forces: ″It was clearly identified as an F-14, it ignored warnings and was approaching in a hostile manner.″

An Iranian official quoted by IRNA said the fighting erupted when U.S. forces attacked Iranian gunboats ″on routine patrol″ Sunday.

Two Iranian crewmen were reported missing in the exchange, IRNA said.

It quoted the officer as saying U.S. helicopter gunships attacked the gunboats, which also came under fire from U.S. warships. He claimed one of the helicopters was shot down.

Minutes after that, the Airbus flew over the combat zone soon after it had taken off from Bandar Abbas, where there is a major naval and air base, IRNA said.

IRNA quoted the Iranian official as saying the plane exploded in mid-air above the Iranian island of Hengam, south of Bandar Abbas.

Shipping sources said the crash site was 30 miles south of Bandar Abbas.

IRNA said witnesses on the island saw the plane disintergrate and fall into the sea from an altitude of 7,500 feet.

Tehran Radio, also monitored in Cyprus, later said: ″America’s crime today in downing an Iranian Airbus is ... new evidence of American crimes and mischiefs, crimes which expose America’s nature more than ever before.″

IRNA reported that 100 bodies, many of them badly mutilated, were recovered from the waterway by Iranian rescue teams.

IRNA said Iranian navy frogmen found pieces of wreckage on the seabed ″showing that the plane had been hit by a missile.″

U.S. warships and waves of helicopters and tugboats rushed out to search for survivors.

The gulf, roiled by the eight-year war between Iran and Iraq, is patrolled by warships from the Soviet Union and the United States in addition to other Western countries. There were no reports of military action in the gulf Sunday.

If reports and casualties are confirmed, the Airbus crash would be the 6th- worst airline disaster in history.

It was the second crash involving an Airbus in a week.

One week ago, an Air France plane, one of the new A320 Airbus models, crashed near the French-Swiss border. Three people were killed and 133 survived.

Airbus is produced by Airbus Industrie, a European consortium. According to a company statement in March, a total of 404 A300 planes were in service with 60 airlines.