As Indians, we closely remember the 26/11 Mumbai attacks or the 1993 serial blasts in Mumbai as some of the most haunting terrorist attacks in the country. But, many of us have forgotten the Air India Flight 182 debacle that claimed the lives of as many as 329 passengers. The incident has left a deep wound in the history of India.
The Air India Flight 183, Boeing 747, named after the Kushan dynasty emperor Kanishka, was operating from Montreal in Canada to New Delhi via London. On June 23, 1985, the flight took off for a journey, scheduled to include stops at Montreal’s Mirabel airport, London’s Heathrow, Delhi’s Palam and Bombay’s Sahar. After the flight arrived in Montreal, more passengers boarded to make for a full complement of 329, including 22 crew members. The Majority of the passengers were Canadian.
While it was in the Irish airspace, the flight was destroyed mid-air triggered by a bomb, at an altitude of 31,000 feet. In just 45 minutes, it would have arrived the Heathrow Airport, but suddenly it got disintegrated. No warning or emergency calls were issued. As the plane disappeared from radar screens, a bomb sent via Vancouver, placed in cargo had exploded. Heathrow staff dispatched emergency rescue crews, but no survivors were found. Only 131 bodies were retrieved from the sea.
The airline officials suspected Sikh extremists for planting the bomb on the aircraft. It was the result of the violent unrest between Hindus and Sikhs in India during the 1980s. The police had arrested two suspects after five years of the incident. One of the accused, Talwinder Singh Parmar was set free, but he was later killed by the Indian police. Another suspect, Inderjit Singh Reyat, a Sikh, residing in Vancouver, was sentenced to five years imprisonment in 2003.
In 2006, a Canadian commission was appointed to conduct an inquiry into the bombing of Air India Flight 182. In its five-volume report, which was released in 2010, the panel concluded that the disaster resulted from a “cascading series of errors.” In particular, it found that Canadian intelligence and security agencies had failed to share information with each other and had instead engaged in “turf wars.”