Two U.S. warships in the area of the American cruiser Vincennes when it shot down an Iranian airliner reported the plane was not descending toward the cruiser as the Pentagon has asserted, Administration officials told Reuters today.
The officials, who demanded anonymity, confirmed a Washington Post report attributed to military sources familiar with a U.S. investigation into the July 3 Persian Gulf incident in which all 290 airliner passengers and crew died.
Possible Attack Mode
The Defense Department has said the Vincennes reported that the plane was descending in a possible attack mode toward the ship and sending a signal indicating that it was an Iranian F-14 fighter when the ship shot it down with anti-aircraft missiles.
But Administration officials said today that both the frigates Montgomery and Sides reported that their radars showed that Iran Air Flight 655 was either in level flight or rising after leaving Bandar Abbas in Iran on a flight to Dubai.
Pentagon spokesman Dan Howard told reporters last week that the Sides and the Dubai control tower reported that the A-300 Airbus was not descending at the time. He did not have a report on the Montgomery.
Radar More Accurate
The Pentagon refused comment on today's Washington Post report, but Howard and other defense officials have stressed that radar aboard the $1-billion Aegis cruiser Vincennes was designed to be much more accurate than equipment on frigates.
Navy warfare experts have been studying computer tapes from the Vincennes as part of a Pentagon investigation headed by Navy Rear Adm. William Fogarty into the incident.