Conspiracy at Desert One
By Bernace Charles
The sight of the arrival of the helicopters and their marshaling behind
the C-130s was one of near fantasy. To Laleh, everything seemed to move
as the final act of some tragedy. There were four c-130s and six helicopters
now setting to the east and west of the graded road. The area was awash
in the sound of plane engines and helicopter rotors. Blowing swirls of
sand and the drone of engines were the common denominators of the shared
space. Minutes earlier, Karim returned from making his way to the north
and across the road where he viewed two planes and two helicopters to the
East Side of the road.
Having the starlight scope affixed to the rifle, Laleh watched the helicopter
nearest her position. Three helicopters were before her. Laleh hadn't changed
position and running the risk of someone seeing her.
Now, as Laleh sighted the rifle on the shroud of the transmission of
the nearest helicopter she knew six helos made landings. The Delta Force
commander needed at least six helos to ferry those needed for the embassy
takedown. Laleh didn't know a helo to the east had shut down its engine
in fear of hydraulic problems. As the helicopter nearest her lifted, Laleh
sighted the Starlight Scope to view the transmission shroud. Laleh stayed
low. Neither her nor Karim heard the commander of Delta Force say to Colonel
Keller. "We're out of here. Without the sixth chopper there isn't
any way to get the needed equipment and men in position."
Keller asked, "Can you strip it of twenty men? We have five helicopters.
I hate to lose this night. It'll be our only opportunity!"
The Delta Force commander angry for the night's bad luck said, "It's
over! We're out of here! Get everyone loaded! We're running on bare bones
as it is."
Colonel Keller climbed aboard hello four. Reaching its pilot he said,
"We're aborting. Get the five hellos back to the Nimitz. We'll destroy
the one left behind before the last plane leaves. We have to get helo three
and you moved. We have to get tanker four turned for takeoff. It's damn
low on fuel and needs to get into the air. Get this thing moved to the
west!" Colonel Keller exited the helo and headed to the northeast
side of the road to tell Camron to get his aircraft into the air.
As Laleh sighted the rifle on a helo's transmission, the blowing sand
hampered her sight. Pulling the trigger, Laleh lay stunned by the following
seconds. Colonel Keller heard a whack before hearing a loud explosion.
Keller turned and saw a huge fireball reach into the sky. It was swallowing
the left side of tanker four. Helicopter 4 had launched, drifted to the
right, and into the EC-130. The rear of the helicopter was on fire with
the rest of the machine settling topside the tanker cockpit. The helo's
rotors turned in the firelight. The horrifying scene was nauseating. "Dear,
God, not after all the effort!"
As Keller ran to help get those off the plane, he didn't see the figure
to the southwest. Laleh knelt atop the sand. At first, the fiery explosion
stunned her. But Laleh quickly retrieved her camera knowing the inferno
offered enough light for the high-speed film. She took pictures of the
fiery inferno through a telescopic lens with the fire a hundred yards from
her. As the high-speed film caught the scene, Laleh watched the nightmare
before her. She saw a man run covered in flames. The sight brought tears
to her eyes. Nevertheless, even in the nightmare of hell before her, Laleh
continued shooting the scene until Karim tackled her to pull her down.
Karim saw a man with an automatic assault rifle scanning the west. The
man thought the plane had come under attack.
Karim held Laleh down and saying, "Stay Down! You want to get killed?"
He came off her and crept to the sand's ridge to see if anyone came in
their direction. No one did. Instead, the Americans were busy attempting
to save those men piling out of the plane and getting the tanker to the
right moved. Men were dying. The sight sickened Karim. The American woman
came to prevent death and men were dying before them. As they watched men
fan out to the north and west one of them walked to the southwest and came
within thirty feet of Laleh and Karim.
The man stared into the darkness without his night-vision goggles he
had lost in the confusion. He turned back. Karim and Laleh watched the
remaining force move to the north as the C-130 next to the fire increased
its engine power and turned to the southwest. To the east of the road,
Russ Camron got his plane turned and ready for takeoff. The chemlights
laid down by controllers lined him up to the southwest. Camron brought
the engines to full power and released the brakes.
Laleh stood, ran to the south, and squatted on her knees. As Camron's
plane bore down on the road, she snapped the second of the last two frames
of the camera. The plane shook violently as it plowed through the sand
along the shoulder of the road. Laleh snapped her last photograph as Cameron's
plane continued straight toward her. The plane lifted over her to rise
into the night.
Turning back to the other planes preparing to leave, Laleh couldn't
believe the sight of another plane heading toward her. The pilot also lined
up on the wrong lights. With luck on its side, the plane broke through
the graded shoulder to lift into the sky. Laleh squatted and watched as
it passed fifty feet above her. As the last plane loaded with Colonel Keller,
Karim reached Laleh to again tackle her and ask, "Damn it . . . you're
crazy? Don't you realize if someone saw you they'd kill you?"
Laleh said above the sound of the engines racing along the west of the
road. "I don't give a damn! I'm who caused the accident! Do you think
I give a damn whether I live? It went wrong! It isn't what was to happen!
No one was to die!"
Karim held Laleh as she released her anger. As Laleh openly cried, Karim
knew she hadn't caused the deaths.
Within an hour, the scene was quiet. The group of released Iranians
stood to the east and gazed on the fire as it burned itself out. They didn't
see or hear the motorcycle as it stayed in the distance before turning
back to the dirt road. As Laleh had secured the rifle sections as part
of the motorbike frame, Karim had buried the starlight Scope and the thermal
Now, as the motorcycle sped into the last hours of the night, Laleh
sat in a dazed state of anguish and fury. Karim stayed to the secondary
road and driving southwest. He would stay on the road until they passed
through Yazd to take the highway north. This time there would be no slow
pace along the western edge of the desert. He wanted as close to Tehran
as possible before the morning light. Behind the motorcycle, a boiling
cloud of dust rose into the late night.
However, Fred Southgate lied to Laleh. She did what he instructed, and
it enraged her that she did. She caused the deaths of Americans. The motorcycle
would leave tracks, and a motorcycle with a sidecar wouldn't be that common.
Laleh was thankful that the light of the fire had failed to fall into
the shallow depression hiding her and Mashhad. Now, as Karim guided the
bike, Laleh knew men would become interested in where she had spent the
past hours. She knew they would be interested in Karim's whereabouts at
the time the Americans entered the country. They would want to know why
he failed to report the American plan that Laleh told him about, and men
would want to know why he had helped it succeed. >>>
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