For the past seven months police and civilian investigators on three continents have been analysing evidence from Air-India’s Flight 182, trying to determine why the plane crashed off the coast of Ireland on June 23. The Boeing 747, flying to Bombay from Toronto, carried 329 people, none of whom survived. Since the crash, many experts have suspected that a bomb planted on board caused the disaster. Last week, for the first time, the Canadian Aviation Safety Board (CASB) said exactly that. In a report to a New Delhi judicial inquiry the board declared, “The evidence does not support any other conclusion.”
In making its case, the board cited Indian analysis of wreckage, including a cabin door, which showed holes that could be explained only by an explosion. The wing and tail damage, said the report, indicated that the explosion occurred in the forward cargo hold of the plane. While the board conceded that the evidence was circumstantial, Bernard Deschênes, the CASB chairman, said, “It was an explosive device that should not have been there.”
But lawyers for Air-India and Air Canada, which are facing multimillion-dollar liability lawsuits, said that the Canadian report was riddled with errors. During an intense crossexamination of the board’s senior investigator, Arthur LaFlamme, Air-India lawyer Lalit Bhasin challenged the report’s findings that Toronto airport security—the joint responsibility of Air Canada and Air-India—was inadequate. He also accused the board of colluding with the federal government to make Air-India appear liable for the disaster. LaFlamme denied the accusations, insisting that the report was “designed to assist [the court] to help determine the contributing factors and causes” of the crash.
For his part, Air Canada lawyer John Strung called the CASB report “at best redundant, at worst misleading.” But neither Strung nor Bhasin offered evidence to refute the board’s theory. Ending its hearings this week, the Indian inquiry is expected to review the testimony before issuing its final ruling later this month. And that decision, experts say, will have a critical effect on the next stage in the legal process—the suits filed by families of Flight 182’s victims.
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