Air-India Jet’s Recorders May Never Be Found
Experts said Tuesday that they have not yet determined if it was a bomb that shattered an Air-India jumbo jet at 31,000 feet and that the “black box” data recorders from Flight 182, which could provide clues to the disaster, may never be found.
The search in the North Atlantic for victims of the Sunday crash was scaled down, with 198 of the 329 people aboard still unaccounted for.
In India, newspapers urged the public not to take revenge on the Sikh community because of speculation that militant members of the sect planted a bomb on the Boeing 747 flight that was headed from Canada to New Delhi and Bombay via London.
Sikh leaders in India, Canada, the United States and Britain have denied involvement and condemned terrorist acts.
Nevertheless, two Sikh fugitives are under investigation on three continents in connection with the Air-India disaster and an explosion an hour earlier at Tokyo’s Narita airport that killed two baggage handlers and injured four others.
Flight From Vancouver
In that incident, a bomb had apparently been planted in a suitcase taken off a CP Air flight from Vancouver.
V.K. Bhasin, deputy manager of Air-India’s sister company, Indian Airlines, told reporters in this southeast Ireland port, center of rescue operations: “What looks quite obvious is that the aircraft broke up in the air.
“Some of the pieces, like chairs and cushions, are intact, so they had to fall from high up in the sky. If the whole aircraft had impacted (against) the water there would have been a lot more twists and turns in the chairs and some of the other equipment.”
Bhasin heads a seven-man Indian delegation that came here to make preliminary inquiries for a judicial investigation ordered by Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.
Joe Jennings, head of the Irish Government Information Service, said 131 bodies were recovered in a two-day air and sea search about 120 miles southwest of Ireland.
The rest are thought to have sunk, been trapped in submerged wreckage or washed away by currents. The Irish Marine Rescue Coordinating Center had said earlier that 133 bodies were found, but amended its figure to 131. None were immediately identified.
Mile Below Surface
U.S. air safety experts said in Cork that they saw virtually no chance of recovering the plane’s two flight recorders, which could provide important clues to what brought the plane down but are believed to be a mile under water.
The Gardline Locator, a British deep-sea exploration vessel, was sailing from England to search for the two flight recorders, which register all aircraft functional data and cockpit conversations.
The ship has a mini-submarine that could dive for the boxes, but American officials of the National Transportation Safety Board said when asked about the chances of recovery, “None at all.”
William Tench, Britain’s former chief investigator of air accidents, saw a 50-50 chance of locating the boxes, but he said they may be embedded in mud in a seabed of mountains and ravines.
Air-India’s deputy operations manager, S.K. Anand, said the airline has stopped flying to Canada and will not resume “unless security gets tight” at Canadian airports.
The airline’s New York office said operations to Canada were suspended because of lack of equipment and will be resumed when replacement aircraft are available.
Canada has ordered greater security measures on all international flights except those to the United States.
Twenty additional X-ray luggage scanners are being delivered to major airports, and all checked luggage being put aboard overseas flights will be examined. Hand luggage is being checked more closely, and all air freight except perishables is being delayed for at least 24 hours.
Investigators trying to link the Air-India and CP Air incidents are focusing on Lal Singh and Ammand Singh, two New York Sikhs wanted in the United States on charges of plotting to assassinate Prime Minister Gandhi.
An Air-India spokesman in Tokyo said men with the same names had made bookings to fly to Tokyo from Vancouver with CP Air last Sunday and had planned to take an Indian plane from Tokyo to Bangkok the same day.
Tokyo police said Ammand Singh canceled his booking before the flight. It was not known whether Lal Singh was one of 44 passengers who later flew to other destinations. Police said there was no record of his having entered Japan, and there was speculation that Lal Singh checked his luggage on the flight but did not board it.
Gandhi ordered officials in India’s Punjab state, home of most of the predominantly Hindu nation’s Sikh minority, to probe the background of the two fugitive Sikhs.
They were also under investigation by Japanese police and by authorities in Canada and Britain.
Last month, the FBI issued arrest warrants for the pair on charges of plotting to kill Gandhi during his visit to the United States on June 12-14.
The FBI warned that they might have fled to Canada after five other Sikhs were arrested on the same charges in New Orleans.
At least three extremist organizations are reported to have claimed responsibility for bombing the Air-India plane.
They are the Tenth of Dashmesh Regiment, the Sikh Student Federation and the Kashmir Liberation Army.
Kashmir, a mainly Muslim Himalayan region, has been the focus of two out of three wars fought between India and Pakistan since independence from Britain in 1947.
The Dashmesh Regiment is reported to have carried out sabotage attacks in Punjab state as part of a separatist war to establish an independent Sikh nation there.