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It was clear that the inexperienced terrorists had assumed that their bombs would leave little evidence behind, and in fact they were partly right. But three things worked against them: Bad timing, the wizardry of Japanese forensic experts and the willingness of the Mounties to search for a needle in a haystack.
Shortly after the bomb-blast ripped through Narita’s modern airport, shaking the terminal building, killing two baggage handlers, injuring four others and scaring the daylights out of passengers, forensic experts started the painstaking task of picking up every minute particle of what was left of the powerful explosive device. Then they began piecing together what they could.
The terrorists hadn’t heard about Japanese forensic technology. And they had even helped the Japanese a bit by miscalculating their time. All the evidence pointed to an attempt at simultaneous explosions, one aboard Air India 182 at Heathrow in London and the other aboard Air India 301 at Narita. The terrorists miscalculated, however, by exactly an hour. They would have achieved their aim if they had delayed the timer by one hour on their Narita bomb. But the miscalculation meant that the bomb exploded within the terminal, rather than after the bag was put aboard the waiting Air India jet that was to take off two hours after CP 003 arrived with its deadly cargo. The blast occurred just as the luggage handlers were taking the bag out of a container. Somehow the terrorists had lost an hour in trying to calculate the difference between Tokyo time and Vancouver time before setting their deadly device.
Had the bomb gone off on the Air India plane while it was parked on the tarmac, much of the forensic evidence would have been lost in a ball of fire in the confined space of a luggage container. And this evidently was the plan: Cause a thundering explosion and then start a fire. The device was designed to do exactly that. But because of the error in setting its timers, it had detonated on the concrete floor of the terminal building, with vast space for particles to fly out in all directions. Particles were embedded several feet away in walls. With grim justice, the bodies of the two unfortunate victims of the explosion would also give up vital clues to their murder in the form of tiny fragments of metal, particles of a circuit board and other fragments. Eyewitnesses reported a ball of flame and acrid smoke.
Forensic experts who set to work on the bodies of the two victims, plucking out the tiny fragments, put together a startlingly clear picture of the bomb. It had been placed in a gray vinyl suitcase, and the recovered bits of metal revealed that the explosive had been concealed within the aluminum shell of an am/fm stereo tuner. The experts could even read some of the numbers on the shell. And then, comparing the numbers with various makes of stereos produced in the Orient, they quickly learned that the metal casing was that of a Sanyo tuner. The terrorists, in another oversight that indicated their inexperience, had even placed the tuner in the original box that it had come packed in. The experts then found traces of a green-colored adhesive tape that had been used to fasten the various components of the bomb – the explosive, the detonator, the timer device and even a lantern type battery.
The news relayed to the RCMP about the brand of stereo used was like music to their ears. It was a major breakthrough. The scenario was easy to follow. The insides of the tuner casing had been removed, to make room for about eight sticks of dynamite and other components necessary to make the infernal device. Finding the fragments of the cardboard container of the stereo was definitely an important bonus, for this meant that somebody probably had bought it new.
Luck was still at work, for the Japanese determined that they were looking at the shell not of just any Sanyo tuner but of a model FMT 611K. The forensic team next wrote to the Sanyo factory about this particular type of Sanyo tuner. Several days later, the factory came back with a surprising reply: All 2,000 of these units made since they were first produced around 1979 had been shipped to Sanyo’s warehouse in Richmond, near Vancouver.
How do you track down just one of 2,000 tuners of a type that has been discontinued for three years? Do you even try? The question was answered as quickly as it was raised at RCMP headquarters in Vancouver, where Superintendent Holmes and Inspector Hoadley were poring over the task of tracing these 2,000 tuners that had been distributed across the length and breadth of the province of British Columbia. Difficult for sure, but not impossible, they decided. Long shots often pay off.
And so it was that Inspector John Hoadley set out from RCMP headquarters for the drive to Richmond, where he was welcomed with open arms by his childhood buddy Cis Oliver, who happened to be plant manager a the Sanyo warehouse. Oliver was delighted to see the man he believed to be one of the finest police officers in Canada. Oliver knew from his school days that Hoadley was not a man who would give up when he faced difficult odds. But 2,000 tuners! Good luck, Oliver said. He knew it would be a tough job, even for Inspector Hoadley.
Hoadley sat down to pore over sales records. He wasn’t looking for warranty records, that was for sure. Terrorists wouldn’t need to file a warranty card, for they wouldn’t need to repair their tuner. For six hours he pored over what records were still held in the Richmond office. But much of the documentation was now in Sanyo’s Toronto headquarters, because the stereos had been out of production since 1982. Hoadley promptly phoned and asked Toronto Mounties to start digging at the offices of Sanyo in that city. For two days, his colleagues checked over company records, making photocopies whenever they found sales of model FMT 611K to various discount electronics stores. The haystack was being narrowed, although the needle hadn’t grown in size.
Men were dispatched to check each store that had purchased the tuners. Most had run out of stock at least two years earlier. What the Mounties were looking for was a dealer who might have had a few still lying around unsold until recently. The stereo tuner had already become a dinosaur. What they needed was the right stereo unit and the right buyer. One who didn’t care about the latest advances in stereo technology, perhaps because he wasn’t planning to use the tuner for listening to music.
It was becoming a discouraging task. ‘None in stock’ was the standard reply. Then, just as they were beginning to feel the frustration of long hours of work and no results, the investigators got lucky. It happened in the sleepy little city of Duncan on Vancouver Island, a ferry-ride and short drive away from Vancouver. A Mountie had just plodded into the F. W. Woolworth store, expecting the standard reply.
But what the news here was going to be good.
The sales assistant told him, ‘As a matter of fact, we just sold our last one a few weeks ago.’
Bingo! The Mountie knew he had struck gold. The long shot had paid off. Once again the terrorists had failed to cover their tracks. The clerk remembered the sale because the store was glad to finally get rid of an out-of-date stereo that had been lying on the shelf gathering dust. And, of course, she remembered the two turbaned and bearded men who had walked into the store to buy it. One of the faces the clerk described was already all too familiar to the Mounties. They’d heard about him from Day One of their Investigation.
The stereo discovery had taken the RCMP a full circle back to evidence gathered by the spy surveillance team on June 4, 1985 during the surveillance of Parmar who they had followed from his home in the Vancouver suburb of Burnaby. His constant companion and Babbar Khalsa group member Surjan Singh Gill had picked up Parmar for the bush trip that morning. Gill was the man who had opened that first consulate of Khalistan in Vancouver in 1981. What CSIS surveillance had seen was that Gill, Parmar and a third man who has been known only as UM (unidentified male) in police books drove to the ferry terminal near Vancouver. Gill was driving. He dropped off Parmar and the UM at the ferry and returned home. Parmar and the UM had then continued their trip to Duncan and gone on to the home of Inderjit Singh Reyat, an auto mechanic. Then, the trio had gone down to an isolated road where Reyat and Parmar let off an explosion, which CSIS agents had mistakenly described as a “loud report” from a gun. A report was filed by CSIS to RCMP that surveillance had shown curious activity by Parmar and Reyat. But no one at that time had reason to think a bomb experiment had been conducted in the bush. Everyone, for the moment, believed that a gunshot was heard. The first clear opportunity for immediate investigation had been missed. RCMP would later go into the bush, some days after the air disaster, and discover clear evidence that the two men had conducted an explosive experiment.
So as those pieces fell together, there was another question. Why had the terrorists chosen this stereo tuner? No doubt for its size. The size was just right for carrying a big load. It measured 16 inches by 14 inches by more than 5 inches. Larger than more modern models of tuners for certain. The sales records showed that it had been purchased on June 5, 1985, just 17 days before its shell was sent from Vancouver to Tokyo aboard Flight 003 with a bomb concealed inside.
This discovery raised the interesting and very likely possibility that the Air India flight had carried a bomb not only of the same explosive magnitude but possibly inside a stereo unit too. Duncan was combed from one end of the town to the other but no one could remember selling a stereo tuner in recent days to two men in turbans. That didn’t destroy the theory, however. A second tuner could have been purchased elsewhere or a second-hand unit lying idle at home might have been used. Maybe that was where the idea of putting the bomb inside a stereo came from in the first place. Or, it is a possibility they used the shell of a video recorder to make the second bomb.