Rescuing Hostages

Mounting pressure to rescue hostages in Iran led Jimmy Carter to order a rescue operation. "We can no longer depend on diplomacy," said Carter in April. But when the "Desert One" operation failed, Carter took full responsibility.


Narrator: By April pressure was growing intense and the situation increasingly hopeless. "We could no longer afford to depend on diplomacy," Carter was forced to conclude. "I knew from an intelligence report that there was little prospect of the hostages' release for the next five or six months... I decided to act."

It was called Desert I. It required six C-130 transport planes, a 90-man rescue team, two C-141 Starlifters, eight helicopters, and nearly impossible logistics.

Betty Glad, Political Scientist: It was a highly risky operation. The CIA even talked about the number of people, including the hostages, who might be killed. But it was doing something.

Narrator: South of Tehran, in the Iranian desert, the rescue mission turned into a disaster. Two helicopters failed, another crashed into a C-130 in a sandstorm.

Eight men died in Desert I. Three more were severely burned.

Jimmy Carter (archival): It was my decision to attempt the rescue operation. It was my decision to cancel it when problems developed. The responsibility is fully my own.

Jody Powell, Press Secretary: I sort of thought at the time, "Well, people will give the president credit for trying." But I also realized that now the chances of being able to get those people out anytime in the near future was very, very slim and that from a political standpoint that was going to be a heavy burden to bear.


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  • NEH