The investigation into the June 23 crash of Air-India Flight 182—and the loss of 329 people aboard—shifted from Bombay, India, back to the southwestern coast of Ireland last week. Following an inconclusive study in Bombay of voice tapes and data stored in the downed Boeing 747’s flight recorders, Judge B.N. Kirpal, the Indian who is leading the investigation, planned to study wreckage recovered on the ocean surface and to decide whether efforts should be made to retrieve other parts of the plane from more than a mile beneath the Atlantic. In the meantime, Kirpal met with senior Canadian aviation and police officials who flew to Ireland in an attempt to smooth out frictions between the two sides and to ensure that Canadian investigators have full access to crash data. “The whole case is packed with horrifying jurisdictional problems,” said a Canadian official. “And the answers will take time.”
While Canadian and Indian officials conferred in the Irish port of Cork, the Canadian Coast Guard ship John Cabot, which has been at the crash site about 110 miles to the southwest for more than 10 days—at a cost to the Canadian government of about $50,000 a day—deployed the Scarab II robot submarine in an attempt to locate and photograph pieces of the Boeing’s wreckage. Investigators have yet to determine whether a bomb caused the 747 to crash, but an RCMP explosives expert flew from Cork to the John Cabot by helicopter last week and boarded the ship.
Kirpal decided to take his inquiry back to Ireland when a five-day study in Bombay of data from the 747’s “black box” flight recorders, which were recovered earlier from the wreckage, failed to provide any clear evidence of the cause of the crash. The aircraft’s voice tape ended with an abrupt high-pitched noise. But the data recorder yielded computer printouts of 76 different types of flight information. In Ireland investigators planned to compare that information with clues yielded by the aircraft wreckage and with further analysis of radio transmissions taped by the air traffic control centre at Ireland’s Shannon Airport.
Before beginning that investigation, Kirpal met with a high-level Canadian delegation which flew from Ottawa to express concern over a number of issues, including access to information from Indian investigators. Although Canadian scientists joined Indian and U.S. experts in examining the flight recorder evidence in Bombay, Bernard Des-
chenes, chairman of the Canadian Aviation Safety Board, told Maclean’s that “there was some reservation on the part of some Indian investigators” in making certain information available to the Canadians. Although the downed aircraft was on a flight from Toronto and Mon-
treal with 279 Canadian citizens aboard when it went down, under international law the crash site is considered to be under Indian jurisdiction. Officials in Ottawa said that Canada wants printouts of the flight recorder data and an agreement to ensure that Canadian police and civilian investigators are kept up to date on the international inquiry.
Following his meeting with Kirpal, Deschenes said he was hopeful that Canada would now get what it wanted. According to Deschenes, he and Kirpal agreed on guidelines on the role of Canadian officials in the Indian government’s inquiry, and on the gathering of
evidence about the crash in Canada.
While experts in Ireland pressed their search into the cause of the crash, Canadian, Indian, U.S. and Irish police continued to investigate the possibility that Flight 182 may have crashed as the result of sabotage. In Canada, where the RCMP, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service and police forces in Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto and Vancouver were involved, the most widely accepted view was that if a bomb did cause the 747 to crash it was probably planted by Sikh separatists. But authorities were also giving consideration to another, startling theory: that a renegade group of Indian intelligence experts might have planted a bomb themselves in an effort to discredit militant Sikhs who are pressing for an independent state in India’s Punjab region (page 28).
In Ottawa Prime Minister Brian Mulroney’s government last week attempted to console and reassure relatives of the Canadian crash victims. A group of 22 family members, including leaders of Hindu and Sikh communities in six cities, pleaded with federal officials to help recover the bodies of more than 200 Canadians—many of Indian descent—that have yet to be found. Federal officials explained that recovery may be impossible because of the depth of the water, the lack of precise location and the presence of sharks, and told the delegation that Ottawa would contribute to the erection of a monument proposed by Irish authorities to the dead on the Irish coast. “We wanted to give them compassion and sympathy,” an official in the Prime Minister’s Office explained, “and we wanted to give them our assurance that the case is simply the top police priority.”
—MARY JANIGAN in Toronto, with DEBRA BROWN and KATHY LORD in Ottawa and PHILIP WINSLOW in London.
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