International Court of Justice

Case : Islamic Republic of Iran v. United States of America

Aerial Incident of 3 July 1988


On 3 July 1988, Iran Air Flight 655 was on its way from Bandar Abbas airport in Iran to Dubai International Airport when it suddenly crashed into the Strait of Hormuz, resulting in the deaths of all 290 occupants. The culprit was a surface-to-air missile fired from the USS Vincennes, whose crew had mistaken the passenger flight for an attacking F-14 Tomcat plane. At the time of this “aerial incident,” the Iran-Iraq War had been raging for eight years. The US, allied with Iraq, had entered Iranian waters before the time of the attack. The US however initially claimed that it had been in international waters and that the Vincennes had acted in “self-defense,” while expressing regret for the civilian casualties. Iran accused the US of violating the 1944 Chicago Convention on International Civil Aviation and 1971 Montreal Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against the Safety of Civil Aviation. Iran promptly instituted proceedings against the US in the International Court of Justice, where the two states reached a settlement in which the US recognized its culpability and paid ex gratia $61.8 million USD in compensation to the families of the Iranian victims.