Robert G. Anders, one of six Americans smuggled out of Tehran with Canadian help, looks back on his escape as a time of fear, uncertainty and considerable confusion.
"Someone said they smelled smoke from the roof," the 54-year-old Anders said yesterday, recalling the moment when a group of Americans decided to make their getaway from a consular building during the Nov. 4 U.S. Embassy takeover.
"Sure, there was some anxiety, but [for] most of the people that were there, that is one of the political risks of foreign service posts anyway," Anders said in a telphone interview. "We also felt that we might momentarily be relieved by the local police or something."
Anders, a consular official, returned to the United States Jan. 30 along with five other Americans who were sheltered in Tehran by Canadian officials for nearly three months.
Four of the Americans escaped with Anders from the consular office, which is set apart from the main embassy building that the Iranian militants took over. The sixth American, agricultural attache Lee Schatz, worked in an office outside the embassy compound and therefore, avoided capture.
Although the six Americans provided a brief account of their escape shortly after their return, Anders was the first to agree to be interviewed. Yet in the telephone interview from his relatives' home in Port Charlotte, Fla., Anders declined to discuss many details, saying, "Our main concern is still with the hostages."
Anders confirmed portions of an account provided to the Washington Post by Kim King, an American tourist who also escaped from the consular office during the Nov. 4 takeover and made his way back to the United States shortly afterward.
Anders confirmed that a Marine guard fired a tear-gas canister to repel an Iranian demonstrator who was trying to enter the consular building. He also confirmed that the Americans heard footsteps on the roof shortly before they made their escape.
The Americans huddled with a large number of Iranians in the dimly lit consular office for about two hours, Anders said. Then they escaped in small groups into a deserted alley.
"I was one of the last two people to leave the building," Anders said. "Everybody left and we went in different directions."
Anders and four other consular officials initially went to Ander's Tehran residence, he said. Later, the other four officials traveled to the Iran-American Society office to help maintain a telepone link with Washington. The Society's office was not shut down by Iranian militants until Nov. 5.
The five consular officials hid out at several locations before being given refuge by Canadian officials, Anders said. At one point, they communicated by radio after phone service was interrupted. "We made three or four moves in that period," Anders said.
He expressed gratitude to the Canadians for helping them escape, saying, "The Canadians did make us feel very comfortable and at home."