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18 Years Of Personal Reflections About AI 182

Tue Feb 11, 2003 12:49 pm

I still remember the moment vividly. It was June 23, 1985 and I was a plane crazy 8 year old boy in Bombay. We were just sitting down to Sunday lunch at my uncle's house when the telephone rang. It was the Air India office calling for my father, and immediately the atmosphere tensed. If they had tracked him down here on a Sunday then something had gone horribly wrong.

He took the phone and I watched as his face turned white. His first words were "How bad?". I remember seeing him wince as he heard the answer of THREE HUNDRED AND TWENTY NINE. My mother sensed the tension as well and held me close as dad hung up the phone and gave us the news.

"One of our planes has gone down off the coast of Ireland. I have to go." and then to my uncle, "Can you drop them back home?"

We drove home in silence and turned on the Television. It was another 2 hours before the Television station interrupted the programming with Breaking News about the events. The depth of the tragedy was so immense that the state-run station actually pre-empted their weekly Sunday movie for news reports for only the second time in history (the first was after Indira Gandhi's assination the previous year). Throughout India, millions sat in silence and waited for more news.

Soon, my dad telephoned from the office. He told us that it was the Toronto flight (initial news reports had said that it was the New York flight) and gave us a list of the crew. I saw the names of many family friends on the list. I crossed my fingers, praying that some folks may have survived.

I slept uneasily that night as my dad helped organize flights for the crew families to Ireland. Every single family was visited by at least one fellow crew member to assist them to get things order. At some point, my dad came home and napped, but he was gone again by the time I woke the next morning.

That morning, at the bottom of the front page, the newspaper carried the news that a bomb had gone off at Tokyo airport as it was being unloaded from a Canadian aircraft. The editorial speculated whether the Ireland crash might be an act of sabotage, a suspicion confirmed later that day.

As the week progressed, rumors circulated in the media and through the airline grapevine. The airline family mourned the loss of not just 21 crew, but also their families who were accompanying them on this summer weeklong layover in Canada. We learned that Sunil Shukla had his pregnant wife with him on the flight, a wedding that I had attended the previous year. We learned that Sampat Lazar had his entire family with him save for one son who had been left behind as a punishment for bad grades. We learned that Dara Dumasia was on his last flight and due to retire at the end of the month. The papers were full of stories about the victims, but you don't appreciate the impact of those until it is someone you know in the flesh.

The Air India wall calendar that year consisted of ladies modelling saries in front of aircraft. The November picture featured "Emperor Kanishka", the aircraft that had gone down. I remember waking up every day that November and crying when I saw her on the wall.

The months and years passed and the story faded away into the collective subconscious of the nation. Periodically I would be reminded of the tragedy by something small. Cleaning out my closet, I found a small keepsake candle from Sunil and Irene Shukla's wedding. Updating my mom's telephone index, I had to remember to remove Kanu Thakur's number from the list. Going through an old photo album, I found a picture of my mom, Capt. Narendra and the rest of their 707 crew in Europe somewhere. Real people. Real friends.

Once I started college as an Aerospace Engineering major, I made AI 182 my obsession. I wrote to the agencies involved with the investigation and obtained copies of the accident report. All of them replied with the documents I requested except for the RCMP who sent me a polite letter saying that they could not comment as this was still an active criminal investigation. Every year, I wrote them to ask for information and every year the Air India Task Force sent a polite letter back signed by Inspector G.D. Bass expressing their regrets but thanking me for my support. Every June, I pulled the box of papers out of storage and read through them again.

Twice, I made plans to visit the AI 182 memorial near Cork in Ireland, but twice those plans fell through. The legal process meandered and stopped and stalled and restarted and 18 years passed. Finally, today on 10 February 2003, Inderjit Singh Reyat pleaded guilty to 329 counts of manslaughter and agreed to provide evidence against 2 of his fellow defendants.

Due process has taken its course and the first of the culprits will pay the price for his crimes. One day in the future, the others will be convicted and the case will be closed. Inspector G.D. Bass will be able send me the box of papers I have been requesting for almost 10 years. I will walk to the waters edge at the Air India memorial in Ireland and finally be satisfied that justice has been served. And somewhere, 329 souls will rest easier for it.


[Edited 2003-02-11 04:53:23]
"The A340-300 may boast a long range, but the A340 is underpowered" -- Robert Milton, CEO - Air Canada
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RE: 18 Years Of Personal Reflections About AI 182

Tue Feb 11, 2003 12:57 pm

Thank you for your reflections, Sean.

May their souls rest in peace.

You have had some brushes with terrorism, eh? This, AI 182, and the "Can we re-accommodate you on United 93?"

Do you ever find it difficult to board a plane due to this?
"Wouldn't your boss like to fly home nonstop at 4:30 on a Friday afternoon?" -Airline Exec to Congressional Staffer
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RE: 18 Years Of Personal Reflections About AI 182

Tue Feb 11, 2003 1:04 pm

That's a terrific post, Sean.

Excellent thoughts, beautifully written.


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RE: 18 Years Of Personal Reflections About AI 182

Tue Feb 11, 2003 1:18 pm

Great post... been a while since i read something like that... makes one think dont it

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RE: 18 Years Of Personal Reflections About AI 182

Tue Feb 11, 2003 1:45 pm

That post brought back a lot of memories for me too. I was about the same age (8 years old) and I remember this accident vividly. Being of Indian decent, this accident was also a little close to home. Such a terrible tragedy.
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RE: 18 Years Of Personal Reflections About AI 182

Tue Feb 11, 2003 1:59 pm

I remember waking up on a lazy weekend morning in college and turning the radio on to the weekend Indian radio station and hearing an Indian voice saying how sad it was that all persons had died on an Air India 747. I called my Mom up and asked her if she knew anyone on board. A week later she informed me that the daughter of one of her friends was a flight attendant on board AI 182. Years later I read a book by Bharati Mukherjee that detailed the AI 182 disaster. It brought a sickening reality back to life.
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RE: 18 Years Of Personal Reflections About AI 182

Tue Feb 11, 2003 2:07 pm

I was in Belgrade Yugoslavia when i heard the news. I was shocked, i had flown AI 182 only two weeks before the terrorist strike. As memory serves me a CPAir flight from Vancouver to Tokyo also had a bomb on board that was to have been loaded onto a AI flight from Tokyo to India flight 301 i believe. The bomb exploded in the baggage area after it had been offloaded from the CPAir 747.
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RE: 18 Years Of Personal Reflections About AI 182

Tue Feb 11, 2003 2:20 pm

Great post Sean! Brings back memories for me and my family also in Hyderabad, India. It was a sad day for India and Canada and the world. It will be a day to remember for ever.

Great post.
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RE: 18 Years Of Personal Reflections About AI 182

Tue Feb 11, 2003 10:11 pm

There is an expression "there for the grace of god we go" which is apt in this moment. Having served on an airport disaster planning team, and only ever experienced the stress of a planned emergency, I can imagine how your father felt that day in 1985. I cannot believe that it was 18 years ago.

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RE: 18 Years Of Personal Reflections About AI 182

Fri Feb 14, 2003 7:31 am

I would like to share a little story about that plane, told by a guy who studied in the University with me back then. He practised alpinism, and that spring he had gone to a expedition in the Himalayas. After his trek, he traveled back to Europe with that particular plane, just in the previous leg (DEL-LHR I believe) to the catastrophe...
Apparently part of the luggage/equipment of his team was not unloaded in London, and went down with the plane. He was angry because of that loss, but at the same time very happy to be alive, the bomb could have exploded some hours before, when he was on that plane, and he would be history now..

RIP all the victims .
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RE: 18 Years Of Personal Reflections About AI 182

Fri Feb 14, 2003 7:50 am

Those of us with the Passion for aviation tend to remember moments like this.People all remember where they were when JFK was killed,or when the Shuttle Columbia exploded.

We also remember events like this,unwelcome as they are.



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