The mid-air destruction of Air India’s Boeing 747 Emperor Kanishka ranks as Canada’s largest mass murder. For Flight 182 in June 1985 originated from Montreal, flying via London and Delhi to Bombay with a majority of Canadian passengers. A terrorist bomb in the forward cargo hold detonated at an altitude of 9,400 m (31,000 ft), 190 km (120 mi) off Ireland’s southwest coast – at the time the deadliest terrorist attack involving an airliner. While some passengers and crew survived the explosion and decompression, none lived through the subsequent break up and crash into the Atlantic. Over 130 bodies were recovered; nearly 200 were ‘lost at sea’.
The attack’s perpetrator was a mysterious ‘Mr Singh’ who made assorted flight bookings using different first names. He arranged for his baggage – a brown Samsonite suitcase containing the bomb – to be transferred from Canadian Pacific Flight 60 from Vancouver to Toronto onto Flight 182 for Bombay. He had a confirmed booking on Flight 60, checked in but didn’t fly. His booking on Flight 182 was provisional but he still persuaded the Canadian Pacific Air Lines agent to mark his suitcase for transfer to the Bombay flight, thus sealing the 747’s fate. This procedure seems incredibly lax in the light of modern security routines, but back in 1985 commercial airliners had yet to become prime terrorist targets.
As always in such cases, the official reaction was to promise that the culprits – thought to be members of a Sikh separatist group called the Babbar Khalsa – would be brought to book. But in the event, despite a prolonged investigation by Canadian authorities that took many years – and charges being brought against prime suspects – the only conviction secured was that of bomb-maker Indeijit Singh Reyat. He served five years after pleading guilty to manslaughter in 2003.
When: June 23 1985
Where: Atlantic Ocean
Death toll: 329 passengers and crew (including 280 Canadians and 84 children)
You should know: An explosion took place at Tokyo’s Narita international Airport an hour before Flight 182 was downed, two baggage handlers were killed and four were injured as a bomb concealed in luggage exploded prematurely before it could be loaded onto Air India Flight 301 to Bangkok, thus saving the lives of 177 passengers and crew.