On September 1, a massive earthquake struck northwestern Iran, killing more than 12,000 people in over 100 villages and towns west of Tehran, the capital. An estimated 70,000 to 100,000 Iranians lost their homes, and thousands were injured by collapsing buildings. The government of Iran appealed for international emergency assistance, and the International Red Cross purchased thousands of tents for the homeless. To airlift the tents and other relief cargo to Iran, the U.S. ambassador, Julius C. Holmes, requested an emergency operation. In response, the JCS organized Operation IDA (Iranian Disaster Assistance) and assigned airlift responsibilities to USAFE and MATS.
Between September 3 and November 12, 47 U.S. military cargo airplanes airlifted more than 900 tons of relief cargo—including a mobile field hospital, six helicopters, 10,000 blankets, and more than 4,000 tents—from Europe to Iran. The 322d Air Division conducted the first phase of this airlift during the first part of September. Flying 28 C–130 Hercules cargo planes from the 39th, 40th, and 41st Troop Carrier Squadrons and five C–124 Globemaster II aircraft from the 52d Troop Carrier Squadron then serving under the 322d Air Division on rotational duty in Europe—the division flew 483 tons of relief cargo to Mehrabad Airport at Tehran. From home bases at Evreux, France, and Rhein-Main AB, West Germany, the airplanes picked up their cargo at Chateauroux AS in France and Stuttgart, Ramstein AB, and Landstuhl AB in West Germany. The transports landed at Athens, Greece, or Incirlik AB near Adana, Turkey, for refueling on the 2,500-mile flights.
Relief cargo included 10,000 blankets, 1,000 tents, 659 boxes of food rations, a 100-bed Army field hospital, six UH–1 Army helicopters, three trucks, medical supplies, and water purification equipment. Riding aboard the aircraft were more than 300 U.S. relief workers, mostly medical personnel, a group that included 18 doctors and 22 nurses. Col. Charles W. Howe, commander of the 322d Air Division, flew the lead airplane and served as the task force commander. There were no accidents.
Between September 29 and November 12, the Military Air Transport Service’s East Transport AF conducted the final phases of the airlift. Flying six more C–124s, seven C–133 Cargomasters, and a Navy C–118 under its operational control, the East Transport AF moved to Tehran 418 tons of additional relief cargo, including more than 3,000 tents from Chateauroux AS and Ramstein AB, and from RAF Mildenhall in the United Kingdom. The 1607th Air Transport Wing and the 63d Troop Carrier Wing participated in the MATS portion of the airlift, which involved 17 missions. In early September, Air Force planes returned cargo from Tehran to Europe, including the Army field hospital and helicopters airlifted by the 322d Air Division. The Cuban missile crisis briefly interrupted the operation during mid-October.