A military-chartered aircraft carrying about 100 Americans from Afghanistan to Dubai landed unexpectedly in Iran on Friday after Iranian officials questioned its flight plan and ordered it down, U.S. and regional officials said.
Officials said the pilots landed of their own accord in the city of Bandar Abbas after being warned that the plane would be intercepted if they did not land. One U.S. official familiar with an initial report about the incident said Iranian fighter jets were scrambled, but the State Department later denied any Iranian military involvement.
In a statement, the department described the incident as a “bureaucratic issue.”
In a later statement Friday night, State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said that the issue had been resolved and that the plane “has departed Iran and landed in Dubai.” The operator of the aircraft, FlyDubai, is based in the United Arab Emirates.
An official from the region, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of reluctance to become involved in a U.S.-Iran issue, said that confusion occurred when the plane, chartered by the U.S.-led international military command in Afghanistan, left Bagram air base, north of Kabul, several hours after its scheduled departure time.
When it entered Iranian airspace, the official said, air traffic controllers there had no updated flight plan reflecting its presence.
A U.S. official said that the Iranians ordered the plane back to Afghanistan but that the pilot replied that he did not have enough fuel for the return trip. The Iranians subsequently ordered the plane to land, this official said.
The Iranian government made no initial comment on the incident. FlyDubai aircraft regularly fly in Iranian airspace. The company operates commercial flights between Iran and various points in the region.
Bandar Abbas, a city on the strategic Strait of Hormuz, is the location of Iran’s main naval base, and its civilian airport is also used by the Iranian air force.
In 1988, as U.S. warships patrolled the Persian Gulf during the Iran-Iraq War, a missile mistakenly fired from the USS Vincennes shot down an Iranian commercial airliner that had taken off from Bandar Abbas, killing all 290 people aboard. That plane also was en route to Dubai, about a 30-minute flight away.
In a settlement reached eight years later, the United States agreed to pay $61.8 million in compensation to the families of the dead.