Thirty four years ago an Air India plane was blown apart by a bomb just off the Irish coast of West Cork, as it flew from Toronto to Delhi via Montreal and London. All 329 on board died, making it the most deadly bomb attack ever on an airliner. For relatives – mostly Canadians of Indian extraction – south-west Ireland remains a place of pilgrimage.
Air India’s Boeing 747 Emperor Kanishka, operating as AI 182 flying from Montreal to London en route to Delhi, was blown up in Irish airspace and crashed into the sea off the west coast on June 23, 1985. More than 329 passengers and crew members lost their lives. On the morning of Sunday 23 June 1985 Lt Cdr James Robinson of the Irish Naval Service was at sea dealing with a boat that had been fishing illegally, when something caught his ear.
34years ago #OnThisDay Air India Flight182 was lost with all 329 crew & passengers when a bomb exploded onboard 120miles off the Irish Coast. In the days that followed the NS would recover wreckage & 131 bodies in one of the biggest maritime operations in the history of the state pic.twitter.com/TrRa9AihVf
— Irish Naval Service (@naval_service) June 23, 2019
“Normally there’s a terrible babble at the back of the bridge but somehow you pick out anything unusual. When a message came over the VHF repeater that a plane had disappeared off screen at Air Traffic Control at Shannon Airport we turned around as fast as we could. At first we had no real detail – we could have been dealing with a Cessna for all we knew. On the way the galley was cooking up soup and the sick-bay was prepared, but the journey took almost three hours and before long we knew it was Air India 182 which had disappeared – a Boeing 747 with more than 300 people on board.” A total of 132 bodies were retrieved – by Robinson’s offshore patrol vessel, by merchant vessels and by British RAF and Royal Navy helicopters which joined the search.
This day 34 years ago – 23 June 1985 – a bomb exploded on Air India Flight 182, killing all 329 people on board.
The flight disappeared from Shannon Airport radar 90 miles from the coast of Ireland.
20 years later, families came to Ahakista, Co. Cork, to mark the anniversary. pic.twitter.com/FP6mLXGLIl
— This Day in Irish History (@ThisDayIrish) June 23, 2019
June 23 never comes easily for the families. Thirty years on, they feel the same anguish they felt after Air India Flight 182 was blown apart. What remains, too, is the sense that they have been abandoned. Yes, they eventually got a judicial inquiry — but its recommendations now gather dust.
And 34 years after the bombing its mastermind Talwinder Singh Parmar is portrayed as a hero by some with his picture displayed outside a Sikh Gudwara in British Columbia. The poster is a permanent fixture on the exterior of the Dasmesh Darbar Temple. The photograph of it was taken last Friday, June 19. To passers-by, it’s just another portrait of some saintly stalwart of the Sikh religion. Actually, about the only thing the defence, the prosecution and the judge all agreed on at the Air India trial in Vancouver was that Parmar was the mastermind of the Air India bombing.
#OTD in 1985: Air India Flight 182, a B-747, is bombed over Ireland, killing all 329 on board, the world's deadliest aviation terrorist act until 9/11 in 2001. For those wanting to know more, I suggest this excellent 2008 documentary on the subject. https://t.co/rQl0b7Lw6r
— Air Disasters OTD (@OnDisasters) June 23, 2019
That makes him the worst mass murderer in Canadian history, by far. Yet he is publicly celebrated to this day as a shaheed — a martyr — by his devotees. Parmar was never put on trial for the massacre he designed with great care and determination despite being tailed by Canadian security services to a woods three weeks before the attack. There he and a co-conspirator tested explosives and a timer. The Indian police played by different rules. Seven years later, in 1992, they caught and killed Parmar while he was on a mission to buy Stinger anti-aircraft missiles from the Pakistani Taliban.
The bungled Canadian criminal investigation into the bombing resulted in only one person being convicted. The only man jailed for his role in the attack was Inderjit Singh Reyat, who was arrested in the UK and initially jailed in connection with a second bomb on an Air India aeroplane on the same day – this bomb killed two baggage handlers in Tokyo’s Narita airport. The bombing of Air India 182 occurred at the same time as the Narita Airport bombing. Investigators believe that the two plots were linked, and that those responsible were aiming for a double bombing. However, the bomb at Narita exploded before it could be loaded onto the plane. Two other men, Ajaib Singh Bagri and Ripudaman Malik, were also charged but were acquitted in 2005. While those who died were mostly Canadian citizens, they had Indian names and they were killed on an Indian plane off the coast of Ireland. You have to wonder what sort of investigation would have been undertaken if 329 white people on a Canadian plane had been brutally murdered?
Remembering the victims of the single biggest act of terrorism in Canadian history. Paid homage at the memorial in Ottawa to the 329 passengers and crew of Air India flight 182 which was blown up over Ireland on June 23, 1985. pic.twitter.com/UVFSYNsiUg
— Vikas Swarup (@VikasSwarup) June 23, 2019
The loss, of Air India 182 remains the most deadly bomb attack on an airliner – and one of the worst air disasters of any kind by number of fatalities. But outside Canada, India and Ireland it is little remembered – particularly after 9/11, which caused so many more casualties on the ground. The Sheep’s Head peninsula in West Cork is the closest you can get on land to the area where flight 182 came down, and a memorial in the tiny village of Ahakista is visited every year by relatives of the dead.
The sheltered site, in deep water Dunmanus Bay, offers a panoramic setting of both the Mizen and Sheep’s Head peninsulas. A formal garden garnished with flowering coastal shrubs leads into a circular flag-stoned area where low walls of locally cut stone embellish a lawn and a memorial stone with the names of all 329 crew and passengers who died.
On this day in 1985, Air India Flight 182, a Boeing 747-237B exploded mid-flight over the Atlantic ocean, kiIIin' 329 people including 86 children. The Sikhi Babbar Khalsa Society was involved in this bomb explosion. The attack was the worst case of aviation terrrorism until 9/11 pic.twitter.com/9tHP9sKdUr
— Oṅkâra (@onkarmantra) June 23, 2019
A magnificent Ken Thompson-created sculpture is the focal point of the garden as a Kilkenny limestone sundial on a wheel-shaped sculpture shows the exact lines of latitude and longitude show the exact location and time at which the jumbo jet exploded and disappeared from air traffic control at Shannon. The shadow of the morning sun strikes the dial at the precise moment, 8.13am.
The extraordinary level of solidarity, support, and assistance extended on that occasion by the local people to the victims’ families has created a unique bond. Those who have lost sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, or friends continue to find solace and peace at the tranquil and beautiful memorial site year after year. Many others visit Ahakista throughout the year to pay homage to each of the persons whose names are inscribed on the wall opposite the sundial memorial.