In 1981, on this day a Air Force VC-137 Stratoliner exploded in a ball of flame shortly after landing at the Rhein-Main Air Base in West Germany. But "Freedom One" was no ordinary commercial aircraft; onboard were the fifty-two American hostages who had been held at the Iranian Embassy for the last 444 days.
Iranian Hostage Crisis on steroidsAlso amongst the long list of fatalities was none other than the thirty-eighth President of the United States, Gerry Ford. Because incoming President Edward M. Kennedy had sent him as an emissary in order to welcome the hostages back into US custody.
Kennedy's predecessor was also a secondary victim of the crisis, albeit an electoral one. The right-wing of the Republican Party put Ford under acute pressure to take action. Protestors in Washington were calling for all Iranians to be expelled from the United States. And so Ford had unwisely authorised two ill-fated mission to rescue the hostages, Operation Eagle Claw and shortly before the election, Operation Credible Sport.
The first attempt, launched at the nadir of the crisis, ended in confusion and embarrassment in the desert due to mechanical problems with the helicopters. And the for the second, which used C130 Hercules transport planes modified with ricket assisted take-off and landing was an unmitigated disaster of the first magnititude. The personal bitterness caused by that second desperate attempt had been so acute, that the hostage-takers had decided to draw Ford into crisis at an even more personal level; in fact, they planned to kill him.
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Back in Washigton, outgoing CIA Director George HW Bush (who sponsored both operations) was in the business of bringing to justice the criminals who had booby-trapped "Freedom One". And finding out precisely how the hostage-takers found out that Kennedy planned to send Ford to meet the hostages in Germany. High on the list of suspects was an Iranian student by the name of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.