Operation Eagle Claw: an Attempt to End the Iran Hostage Crisis

Operation Eagle Claw was a military action whose objective was the rescue of 52 diplomats held in the Iran Hostage Crisis.

On April 24, 1980, helicopters and planes were supposed to land with about 160 soldiers—mainly Delta Force—at a staging base called Desert One. Then embedded CIA agents would drive soldiers into Tehran. Troops would cut power to the city, capture an Air Force Base, evacuate the embassy, and fly to safety.

Things first went wrong when the helicopters ran into a sandstorm, which damaged two of the aircraft. A tanker truck then happened upon the scene—smuggling fuel, the vehicle tried to flee, but soldiers blew it up with a rocket. A bus full of Iranian civilians was halted on the same road, and the 44 occupants were detained.

These events put Eagle Claw behind schedule and under-equipped. Commanders sought and were granted the order to abort. Two aircraft—one plane and one helicopter—needed refueling immediately. As the helicopter attempted to “hover taxi” (to fly low and slow for a short distance), more blowing sand confused the pilot, and he crashed into the airplane waiting to refuel. Both exploded. Eight men died. Five helicopters were left behind as the operation’s remaining personnel returned to nearby airfields. 

The mission’s failure doomed future rescue attempts—and, at least partially, Jimmy Carter’s hopes for reelection in 1980.