Pentagon investigators believe human error led to the U.S. missile attack on an Iranian jetliner last month over the Persian Gulf, defense officials said Wednesday. The investigators said the ship's computerized radar and tracking equipment were apparently operating properly.
The officials, who demanded anonymity, said the military investigators assigned were advancing the theory that crewmen aboard the USS Vincennes, under stress from their first combat action, had misinterpreted the radar data presented by the ship's Aegis defense system.The captain of the ship was told that the Iranian airliner was descending toward the Vincennes and flying at a relatively high rate of speed - that it had been classified as "hostile," said one official.
A review of computerized tapes taken from the Vincennes' Combat Information Center indicates, however, that the ship's radar system did not display data that would justify such a conclusion, the sources added. "There were no problems with Aegis," said one official.
The Vincennes shot down the Iranian airliner, killing all 290 aboard, while patrolling in the gulf on July 3. At the time of the incident, the guided-missile cruiser had just been involved in its first combat action, successfully attacking high-speed Iranian gunboats.
"People underestimate the human factor and stress," said a second official. "You can't replicate that in exercises and training. This (explanation) is very plausible."
The sources agreed to discuss the military investigation following reports by the New York Times and ABC News.
The Pentagon flatly declined comment, saying the inquiry findings were still being reviewed by Gen. George Crist, the head of the U.S. Central Command.
The sources said Wednesday that a few defense officials _ including Defense Secretary Frank C. Carlucci _ had received brief oral summaries on the status of the work.
The official report currently runs at least 70 pages and is accompanied by documentation and testimony from crewmen that exceeds 1,000 pages, said one source.
Nahid Sadeghi, whose brother-in-law, Mohsen Rezaian, was flying the Iranian airliner, told a policy panel of the House Armed Services Committee that compensation is justified even though Iranians may not be popular in the United States.
"I strongly urge the United States to pay compensation to the families of the victims. They are human beings _ not lunatics on a TV screen. They are now widows and orphans _ not terrorists who kill and maim. They are like you and me and our neighbors _ they are not our enemies," she said.
Compensation, she said, "may not be the popular thing to do right now. But it is the right thing to do."
Regardless of what Congress does, most Utahns reject the idea of compensation and they don't want U.S. military forces removed from the gulf, a new Dan Jones & Associates poll conducted for the Deseret News and KSL-TV shows.
In his July 27-28 poll of 905 people about the incident, Jones found that 57 percent of those questioned disapprove of paying reparations to the victims' families, 36 percent approve and 8 percent didn't know.
Asked if the United States should withdraw its military forces from the gulf, 68 percent said we should not, 26 percent said we should and 6 percent didn't know.