The U.S. Still Denies Responsibility For That Time It Shot Down A Civilian Plane
In 1988, the Iran-Iraq War was about over, but skirmishes still broke out between Iran and neighboring countries. In July, the USS Vincennes, a guided missile cruiser, was stationed in the Persian Gulf (in Iranian waters, it would later be revealed, which arguably violated international law -- the U.S. at the time was supporting Iraq and Saddam Hussein). Word came that Iranian gunboats were doing, um, something near a tanker from Liberia, so the Vincennes sent a helicopter to check the area out.
The gunboats were just chilling, but the Vincennes moved forward anyway. The coast guard from nearby Oman radioed in, telling them to withdraw, and so did the U.S. command center in Bahrain. After first laughing at these instructions, Captain Will Rogers obeyed, but then the chopper caught sight of something that might have been shots, maybe, and the Vincennes headed north again. Rogers announced plans to fire a missile, even though he didn't have an actual target yet. He called headquarters to say the gunboats were approaching and about to attack -- which didn't sit well with, like, anyone else, who were pretty sure the gunboats didn't even know they were there.
The ship's radar now detected an unidentified airplane, and all such planes are tagged as hostile by default. A nearby aircraft carrier, the USS Forrestal, was also monitoring the situation and concluded the plane was probably commercial. The Vincennes thought the plane was an F-14, which actually wasn't equipped to do much damage to a missile cruiser, but was a fighter jet all the same. The Vincennes fired. Turns out the plane was actually Iran Air Flight 655, carrying commercial passengers from Tehran to Dubai. All 290 aboard died, including 66 children.