SAS Hero Who Helped Rescue 19 People in 1980 Iranian Embassy Siege Has Died

A former SAS fighter who was integral to the hostage rescue mission during a siege at the London based Iranian Embassy in 1980 has died at 71, after a battle with cancer.

Tom MacDonald, from Glasgow, was one member of an elite special forces team brought in to rescue hostages during a six-day siege at the Iranian Embassy in South Kensington.

The tense siege occurred after Arab separatists stormed the building in April 1980, taking 26 people hostage including a diplomatic protection officer and BBC journalists.

After demands for 91 prisoners in Iran to be let free were denied, leading to a stalemate situation, the then prime minister Margaret Thatcher called in reinforcements from the SAS.

After a six day standoff, the SAS gained access to the building via a balcony entrance after abseiling from the roof as part of Operation Nimrod. Mr Macdonald, whilst masked, was captured by photographers as the mission took place which saw 19 of the remaining hostages saved, with five previously released and one killed.

Mr Macdonald, a father of three, had retired to Oamaru in New Zealand after a long career in the military including spells in the Territorial Army, the Parachute Regiment and finally the SAS. He was awarded the Queen’s Gallantry Medal for his role in the rescue mission before he retired in 2003. Afterwards, he and his men ‘had a beer’ with Mrs Thatcher and her husband Denis after the hostages were rescued and the siege diffused.

Speaking nine months ago about his heroic behaviour, he said: “The whole thing lasted minutes. When we went into the embassy it was on five floors. My snipers were meant to contain the first floor, where I was, and the fifth floor, and the assault team were to take the middle three floors. It turned out that a couple of the terrorists had come down to the floor that I went in on.

“It was me that jumped the balcony and went in through the window, myself and another three.

“We found the terrorists in there and dealt with them, so within 30 seconds I had gone through a window and killed two people, which wasn’t really expected.”

Words: Niamh Spence

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