Conspiracy at Desert One
By Bernace Charles
As Laleh and Karim lay motionless, the engines of the plane drew nearer.
Laleh and Karim listened to the sound. However, before the plane reached
them to circle the landing zone, they heard the rumbling of a truck bearing
down the graded road. It came from the southwest. Both expected the truck
to stop and wait for men to exit the plane after it landed. But the truck
kept barreling along.
It was 10:35 p.m. As the lead Talon closed on the section of desert
the pilot said, We're over it . . . activate the lights."
A man on the flight deck flipped a switch and sent a radio signal that
activated lights buried in the desert by a CIA reconnaissance mission.
Battery powered lights pushed up through the sand to light a strip along
the east side of the road and opposite the side where Karim and Laleh lay.
As the lead Talon made a pass, its lower turret extended. With it making
monitor contact, and with its infrared sensors turned on, the power of
the coal black plane grew louder as the plane circled to intrude out of
the night sky. The truck came out of the dark and heading toward Tabas.
The Talon passed above it as those on the flight deck feared that the driver
had heard the plane. There were also the lights lighting the landing zone.
The truck didn't stop.
Minutes later, and after they heard the plane make a third go-round,
Laleh knew it made an alignment for landing. For its nose gear to be lowered
she also knew the turret for the infrared screen would be retracted. She
brought her head from under the cover and stared into the night.
The Talon touched down and a shutter went through it. After a long roll,
it came to a stop. It was 10:45 p.m. Five further C-130s were in flight
and entering Iranian airspace. Russ Camron was piloting one of three EC-130
fuel carriers within the diamond box of the flight pattern of the five
planes. The planes were to land fifteen minutes ahead of the helicopters.
With the plane landing it rolled to a stop and its rear door lowered.
Army rangers rushed off the Talon and quickly set-off to secure the road
to the west and east. Colonel Keller was out the rear cargo door for only
a few minutes, when he saw flashing lights heading in the direction of
the plane. A bus flashed its lights from high to low beam as it drove straight
into the operation. It was the second vehicle to pass through the landing
zone in less than five minutes. The second vehicle drove straight toward
the Talon as the plane now sat at the side of the road.
Laleh and Karim watched. Instead of the bus being one to pick up men
exiting the Talon, Laleh and Karim heard the rattle of automatic weapons
firing. The bus came to a stop fifty yards from the plane.
Army rangers stopped the bus. Colonel Keller was angry that forty-four
Iranians now accompanied the Americans. The rescue-effort wasn't getting
off to a good start, and it was less than ten minutes on the ground. Keller
scanned the western perimeter with night-vision goggles. His vision passed
over the roll in the distance where Laleh and Karim lay. Laleh saw Keller
through the starlight scope. She slipped down and pulled at Karim's arm.
She said, "They've got some kind of night vision equipment. We've
got to be careful waiting for the helicopters." She took off what
gave appearance of a bracelet, removed the starlight scope from the rifle,
and attached a thirty-five-millimeter camera to it.
As Karim watched, combat controllers set up lights for the following
planes. In total surprise, the distant sound of a hail of M16 bullets sent
into the engine of a truck rattled through the night. Sargent Steve Walkens
released a, "Damn!" As he did, an Army Ranger fired an antitank
missile. A second truck had driven into the operation. It exploded into
a burning, bright glow. The resulting fire lighted the night making the
night vision goggles useless if turned in the fire's direction.
The sound of the explosion caused Laleh to turn the Starlight scope
in the direction of the fire. The firelight being enhanced in the scope
momentarily blinded her. A second vehicle did exactly what Karim said might
happen. Another unlucky Iranian drove straight into the landing zone and
Laleh wondered why the Americans selected the area. It didn't make sense.
Colonel Keller looked in the direction of the explosion, "Damn
it . . . what was that?"
The leader of Delta Force answered, "I don't figgin' know, but
whatever it was . . . it isn't any more!"
Keller said an angry, "Damn it! We've been on this piece of desert
for less than ten minutes! What is this? The Hollywood Freeway!"
A man helping with the TACOM answered, "We'll know soon enough
if the Iranians start squawking over the air. If they don't . . . it could
be someone running contraband gasoline."
Suddenly, a jeep that exited the Talon to set the southwest roadblock
rolled in in a cloud of sand produced by a sliding stop. It stopped before
Colonel Keller. The leader of Delta Force asked a man coming out of it,
"What the hell happened?"
"A truck came in from the west. The driver wouldn't stop. He got
out and took off with a small truck following him. They took off to the
north too fast for us to stop them."
The leader of Delta Force said, "We'll take the bus passengers
out with us. We'll drive the buss into the truck and let them think it
was an accident. The passengers wandered off into the desert. It'll take
them days to find out differently."
Keller was glad to hear the words. They gave a plausible answer to a
Laleh knew the light of the fire to her and Karim's back blinded others
looking in their direction with the night-vision equipment. She turned
the Starlight Scope and camera to the effort before her. She lay low in
the sand with Karim beside her. Karim asked, "Are you crazy? We're
not here to take photographs."
"The fire will blind them if they look in this direction. Too much
light did the same to me. It did it to the scope. I'm going to record this
night. No one will touch my daughter or me if they think there are photographs."
Karim realized the depth of wisdom of the woman. She didn't intend to
die for knowledge of some operation gone wrong in the American Intelligence
Now, the Americans were having the worst luck they could possibly have
in bringing their planes and helicopter force together. Dust clouds to
the south were making the chopper's flights like flying through a sea of
fine, white dust. Unknown to Colonel Keller, two of the choppers set down
in the desert before entering the first of two clouds. Helo number six's
instrument panel began to flash a warning light stating there was a nitrogen
leak in a rotor blade and possibly causing structural failure. After setting
down and checking the system and rotor-blades the crew of helicopter six
abandoned their chopper to board number eight. With the chopper lifting
off the desert floor, its crew soon encountered their first experience
of dust suspended in the desert air.
The remaining C-130s were now 160 miles from Desert 1. Russ Camron's
plane was out of the planned formation but making certain to stay in position
with planes three, four, and six. The planes flew through the heat as their
inertial navigation systems and their terrain-following radar guided them
over the expanse of desert. However, as the lead Talon approached Desert
1, it was a different story for the helicopters. They entered and broke
out of the first dust cloud to find themselves entering a second wall of
powder like sand.
Helicopters 1 and 2 turned back, set down, and their pilots attempted
to evaluate the situation. Helicopters four, five, seven, and eight weren't
aware the lead chopper and commander had turned back.
The only other chopper seeing number one's turn was number two helo,
and its pilot followed the unit's leader. Now, and on the ground they sent
a coded, urgent message of zero visibility. The pilot of helo one was worried;
"I don't know what the hell this is; it's like flying through frigin'
talcum powder! The others didn't see us turn back. We've got to go on!"
He sent a message over the craft's SATCOM radio stating the visibility
problem. It was after sending the message when the pilot and leader of
the group realized the others didn't see their turn. Five of the choppers
pressed deeper into the second cloud and with the group further separating.
At Desert 1, Colonel Keller knew nothing of the status of the helicopters
other than number eight's crew who abandoned it. If the others made it,
they would be down to seven. Number one and two helos were again airborne.
However, helo two now experienced the loss of its second-stage hydraulic
system for powering its number one Automatic Flight Control System. With
helo number two's problems, the pilot of number five was experiencing vertigo
and considering turning back to the Nimitz. By computing fuel needs, he
knew he might not make it back to the carrier. In addition, with flight
instrument problems displaying pitch and roll, and with the backup indicator
sticking during turns, helo two's pilot decided to turn back. The helicopter
force was now down to its minimum of six choppers.
As the helicopter force fought its problems, Laleh watched the scene
before her through the lens of her camera and the Starlight Scope. There
were now four C-130s setting on the desert floor and with their engines
running. With the moon being at 70 percent, Karim and Laleh watched the
first two planes depart. However, because of the fire and no-show of the
helicopters, Laleh hoped the force would withdraw. Knowing the operation
was falling behind schedule, she ignored placing the scope on the rifle.
Karim hadn't loaded the first shell. The rifle lay between them on the
Laleh spoke to Karim in a voice above the roar of the planes' engines,
"We'll wait and see where the helicopters come in. Maybe they're having
problems. Maybe they'll get the hell out of here."
Karim said, "If they bring helicopters this far they'll have to
refuel them whether they stay or leave." Karim took the camera and
looked through the starlight scope. He saw the difference in the scene
as compared to his eyesight. He could see the full aircraft and the men
moving on the road. Karim fixed his attention on Colonel Keller who stood
on the road and speaking with a man dressed in a dark field jacket.
Karim knew time was running out for the Americans. If they were going
to refuel and fly to a prearranged position for the next night's effort,
any helicopter force needed to arrive. Now, the desert was partially ablaze
with landing lights set up by combat control officers. Karim also knew
men would feel the repercussions of the effort throughout the world. Careers
would climb or fall because of its success or failure.
Laleh reached for the rifle. She said, "Listen. The helos are coming.
Out of the distance, increasing in its approach, the sound of the "whoop,
whoop" of a helicopter's blades came out of the night. The helicopter
force was going to arrive to ferry troops to a position near Tehran and
Laleh regretted it. She removed the camera from the Starlight Scope and
handed the camera to Karim. She said, "I have to do it. If the helicopters
are getting through . . . they'll press forward. Give me the first shell."
Karim answered, "I loaded it."
Laleh attached the scope to the rifle.
Karim said, "Wait and see what happens. You said they need six.
Maybe they won't make it. The fire has to be seen by someone." >>>
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