On 35th anniversary of Air India’s Kanishka bombing, pilot’s son recalls horror

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Air India.

Toronto:  As relatives of the 1985 Air India Kanishka bombing remembered their loved ones on the 35th anniversary of the tragedy on Tuesday, the son of the pilot of the ill-fated plane said Canada has let them down by not punishing the guilty.

The Kanishka Flight 182 to Delhi from Montreal was blown off mid-air off the Irish coast on June 23, 1985, by a bomb planted by Vancouver-based Khalistani radicals to avenge the Indian army action at the Golden Temple in June 1984. All the 329 people on board were killed.

Only one person — Inderjit Singh Reyat — was jailed for the second worst aviation disaster after 9/11. Two other main accused — Ripudaman Singh Malik and Ajaib Singh Bagri — were acquitted.

“My dad was 57 at that time. This painful day is etched in my memory… the feelings remain the same even after 35 years. It feels like yesterday,” Anil Singh Hanse, whose father Narendra Singh Hanse was the commander of Flight 182, told IANS.

He said, “The bombing was a political issue and Canadian politicians do not want to upset the vote bank. That’s why this case was never taken seriously. Some politicians and law enforcement officers still attend events organized by the alleged perpetrators.”

Urging Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to take up this issue sincerely, especially the recommendations from the inquiry in 2010, Hanse said, “The PM must not just send a tweet on this day. He must acknowledge the trauma and what we have experienced. There will be no closure until the perpetrators are retried and sentenced.”

India too could have done much more in supporting its citizens by working closely with Canada to solve the crime as it was not just a Canadian issue, he said.

Recalling the tragic day, he said, “When the Air India Kanishka flight started from Mumbai to Canada, I travelled with my father till Delhi as I had to catch a flight to London from Delhi. I was in Aberdeen in Scotland on a diving assignment with an offshore oil rig on that day.

“I was staying at a bed and breakfast hotel with other divers. I had to catch a helicopter at 9 a.m. to leave for the offshore rig when the news broke. As I was having my breakfast, one of the American divers, who was listening to news on radio, told me that an Air India flight had crashed.”

He said, “I was dazed. My mind went blank. Frantically, I started calling Air India to find out as I knew my dad was on the plane, but they didn’t know what to say… they were in total chaos. I caught a flight to London later in the day. At the Air India office at Heathrow, the staff were totally overwhelmed. Everybody was living through a nightmare.”

Air India put them up in hotels in London for three to four days before taking the families to Cork in Ireland where the bodies of some of the victims were brought, he recalled.

“Air India organised our air tickets and I went to Delhi where we performed a havan for my father at a temple in Greater Kailash. Then we performed ceremonies in Mumbai,” he said.

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