Sunday, December 22, 2013

The Mystique of Air India Flight 182

The Mystique of Air India Flight 182

By Furano Yukihira
The Daily Magi
October 28, 2059

Air India Flight 182 was an Air India flight operating on the Montreal–London–Delhi route. On 23 June 1985, the aircraft operating on the route – a Boeing 747-237B (c/n 21473/330, reg VT-EFO) – was blown up by a bomb at an altitude of 31,000 feet (9,400 m). It crashed into the Atlantic Ocean while in Irish airspace.

A total of 329 people were killed, including 268 Canadians, 27 British citizens and 24 Indians. The incident was the largest mass murder in Canadian history, and the deadliest aviation disaster to occur over a body of water. It is also the worst disaster in the Indian aviation history, and aviation disaster in Irish territory.

It was the first bombing of a 747 jumbo jet. The 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie used a similar method, with explosives placed in a radio inside a bag and detonation by timer; no passenger accompanied either bomb. The 1985 explosion and downing of the Air India plane occurred within an hour of the fatal Narita Airport bombing. It was also conducted by Sikh terrorists from Canada. In this case, a bag exploded on the ground before being placed on another Air India flight. Evidence from the explosion pointed to an attempt to blow up two airliners simultaneously.

Investigation and prosecution lasting almost 20 years made this the most expensive trial in Canadian history, costing nearly CAD $130 million. Canadian law enforcement determined that the main suspects in the bombing were members of the Sikh militant group Babbar Khalsa and other related groups based in Canada. Though a handful of members were arrested and tried, Inderjit Singh Reyat, a Canadian resident, was the only person convicted of involvement in the bombing. There was a lack of solid evidence, and the prosecution had committed various legal and investigative errors. Singh pleaded guilty in 2003 to manslaughter. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison for building the bombs that exploded aboard Flight 182 and at Narita.

The Governor General-in-Council in 2006 appointed the former Supreme Court Justice John Major to conduct a commission of inquiry. His report was completed and released on 17 June 2010. It concluded that a "cascading series of errors" by the government of Canada, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) had allowed the terrorist attack to take place.

Twenty years after the downing of Air India Flight 182, families gathered in Ahakista, Ireland to grieve. Governor General Adrienne Clarkson, on the advice of Prime Minister Paul Martin declared the anniversary a national day of mourning. During the anniversary observances, Martin said that the bombing was a Canadian problem, not a foreign problem, saying, "Make no mistake: The flight may have been Air India's, it may have taken place off the coast of Ireland, but this is a Canadian tragedy."

In May 2007, Angus Reid Strategies released the results of public opinion polling of whether Canadians viewed the Air India bombing as a Canadian or Indian tragedy and who they blamed. Forty-eight per cent of respondents considered the bombing as a Canadian event, while twenty-two per cent thought it was a mostly Indian affair. Thirty-four per cent of those asked felt both CSIS and airport security personnel deserved a great deal of the blame in addition to twenty-seven per cent who believed the RCMP were largely to blame. Eighteen per cent mentioned Transport Canada.

Ken MacQueen and John Geddes of Macleans said that the Air India bombing has been referred to as "Canada's 9/11." They disagreed, however, stating:

In truth, it was never close to that. The date, 23 June 1985, is not seared into the nation's soul. The events of that day snuffed out hundreds of innocent lives and altered the destinies of thousands more, but it neither shook the foundations of government, nor transformed its policies. It was not, in the main, even officially acknowledged as an act of terrorism.

Memorials were erected in Canada and elsewhere to commemorate the victims. In 1986, a monument was unveiled in Ahakista, West Cork, Ireland, on the first anniversary of the bombing. Subsequently, a groundbreaking occurred on 11 August 2006 at a playground that would form part of a memorial in Stanley Park, Vancouver, British Columbia. Another memorial was unveiled on 22 June 2007 in Humber Bay Park East, Toronto, Ontario; many of the bombing victims had lived in Toronto. The memorial features a sundial, the base of which consists of stones from all provinces and territories of Canada, as well as the countries of the other victims, and a wall, oriented toward Ireland and bearing the names of the dead.

A 4th memorial was unveiled in Lachine, Quebec on the 26th Anniversary of the tragedy. There are no memorials in India as yet.

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