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Now They Admit it...Almost
On 27 January 1986, the Canadian Aviation Safety Board finally made public a comprehensive report of its findings on the Air India disaster. The detailed report began firstly with the now all too familiar scenario of L. Singh and M. Singh. But there were other more thorough findings on various aspects of the disintegration of AI-182, the Cockpit Voice Recorder analysis and the wreckage found floating off the coast of Wales, England and Ireland as well as the salvage brought to the surface by the Scarab.
The report, released at the Kirpal inquiry, which would later cause heated debate between Canadian lawyer Ivan Whitehall and those representing Air Canada and Air India, stated that the National Research Council of Canada had carried out an analysis of the Cockpit Voice Recorder as well as the Shannon Air Traffic Control Tapes.
‘From the CVR and the DFDR (data recorder), AI-182 was proceeding normally en route from Montreal to London at an altitude of 31,000 feet and an indicated airspeed of 296 knots when the cockpit area microphone detected a sudden loud sound. The sound continued for about 0.6 seconds and then almost immediately, the line from the cockpit area microphone to the Cockpit Voice Recorder at the rear of the pressure cabin was most probable broken,’ said the report.
‘The initial wave from of the cockpit area microphone signal is not consistent with the sharp pressure rise expected with detonation of an explosive device close to the flight deck,’ the report said. But because of the various ways in which sound from such an explosive device can travel to the cockpit area, the presence of an explosive cannot be ruled out either.
Within a split second of the sudden sound picked up by the Cockpit Voice Recorder, the Shannon ATC tape-recorded unusual sounds from the stricken airliner. The sounds lasted for nearly 5.4 seconds.
‘Listening to the sounds, it also appeared that a human cry occurred near the end of the recording. Spectral analysis of these sounds and comparison with voice limitations revealed that the recorded sounds do not contain all the pitch harmonic frequencies normally associated with voice sounds,’ the report continued.
The CASB report said the aircraft was restricted to altitudes below 35,200 feet because of the carriage of the extra engine and speeds of less than 290 knots. The data recorder showed that during the last 27 minutes of flight, the speed was adjusted several times by the cockpit crew. At one time the speed increased by over nine knots above the limit. At 07.1: four minutes before the disaster, the speed was again increased after being slowed nine minutes earlier. The report agreed with Boeing’s findings that these surges would not have contributed in any way to the accident. Boeing had reported earlier that even if the speed limit was exceeded greatly the only adverse effect would be vibration of the aircraft. Furthermore, the crew was aware of the speed limitations and had asked for Oceanic clearance when leaving Canadian territory at a reduced speed.
The CASB document shows that the research council concluded that both the CVR and the DFDR stopped recording simultaneously. As well, when the signal from the transponder vanished at Shannon radar, it did not show any variation in altitude.
The report notes that the Accident Investigation Branch of the UK also came to the conclusion that a high explosive had not gone off near the flight deck. The AIB of UK had also failed to decipher the sounds heard on the Cockpit Voice Recorder and ruled they were similar to sounds previously heard when explosive decompression had occurred on a DC-10 aircraft. Explosive decompression meaning rapid and sudden loss of pressure within the cabin. Eric Newton, the aviation sabotage expert, had called this sound a ‘decompression roar’. The AIB said it could not determine the origin of the explosive decompression.
Indian scientists, based at the Bhabha Atomic Research Center (BARC) came to a different conclusion. The cockpit area mike showed a rise in volume from the normal sounds in the cockpit in about 45 milli-seconds. The rise was about 18.5 decibels higher than normal sound in the cockpit. The Indian scientists compared the sound with an explosion which had caused the crash of an Indian Airlines jet, a Boeing 737, and found that the sound signal had risen from normal cockpit ambient in about eight milliseconds. The explosion in that case had occurred about eight feet from the microphone. The scientists considered that relevant, therefore they concluded that the explosion on Air India 182 had occurred about 40 to 50 feet from the cockpit microphone, which is the site of the beginning of the forward luggage hold.
The CASB report then included the findings of aviation explosives expert V. J. Clancy, of Boeing, who had closely examined floating debris recovered from the crash site.
Clancy’s findings showed:
¨ A foam-backed floor panel had a small number of perforations.
¨ One of the lavatory doors had embedded in it a number of shards of mirror normally fitted in aircraft toilets. Clancy, however, said he could not put much relevance on this finding.
¨ Three oxygen cylinders which were stowed in the forward cargo compartment were recovered. One showed a dent made by the impact of an object measuring about one to two centimeters. The depression was tiny and could have been caused by high velocity particles hitting the bottle.
¨ A red suitcase with blue inner lining was recovered from the ocean. Clancy noted the lining was tattered in the same fashion as a suitcase recovered from an Angola aircraft which had been subjected to a bomb.
¨ A wooden spares box, normally stored at the back but it could have been in the front on AI-182, showed burns. It had been exposed to burning for about four minutes.
¨ Two pieces of the cover of an over-head locker, probably from the front of the aircraft, were partially damaged and blackened by fire.
The Canadian Aviation Safety Board studied the wreckage too and found that the number 4 engine had a series of marks as though it had been hit by a turbine blade from the number 3 engine also mounted on the right with. An upper deck cabinet showed a rounded dent which was not consistent with impact damage. The CASB said it was probably caused by an explosive shockwave generated below the cabin. There was also blackening on the bottom of some seat cushions. Investigators said the charring was similar to that which would be caused by an explosive device.
CASB said the first suitcase found a the beginning of the wreckage trail, the one which came out of the aircraft first as the plane went down, was not recovered. The suitcase was seen with clothes protruding from a tear. The CASB gave no reason for the failure to recover the suitcase.
Another note of significance was that the strut that held up the number 3 engine on the right wing was found a long distance away from the main scatter of engine wreckage. In addition, one of the working engines was lying 0.5 nautical miles away from the engine scatter.
The videotapes showed that a section consisting of the cockpit, first class and electronics bay was so badly mangled that neither the cockpit nor the electronic bay was distinguishable. Portions of the forward cargo hold, the upper crown of the aircraft and the upper deck passenger area were found close to the forward nose section of the aircraft. Scattered nearby were suitcases and badly damaged luggage containers.
All cargo doors were found intact and attached to the fuselage except for the forward cargo door measuring about nine feet by six feet. The upper two-thirds of the door had been ripped out, while the portion that remained attached to the fuselage was badly frayed. The door was located but dropped accidentally during the salvage operation, and this most crucial part of the wreckage has not been located since.
As observed earlier by Khola, the tail section of the aircraft was scattered over a wide area, indicating break-up and disintegration at altitude.
One of the most significant items recovered during the salvage operation was the right hand side forward fuselage section just behind the front cargo door. There were numerous outward holes in this section, and when fished out along with it came hundreds of tiny fragments and medium sized pieces with had pierced the skin. Scientists at Bhabha Atomic Research Center, the Indian National Aeronautical Laboratory and the explosives research laboratory conducted metallurgical tests on this item of the fuselage skin.
They found some of the curling of the skin was indicative of a shock-wave effect, that the large number of fragments of non-brittle aluminum was indicative of explosive forces and that the punctures and outward petalling of the metal were all also indicative of an explosion.
The second item with remarkable bomb clues was the lower skin of the forward cargo hold with about 20 holes in it. Boeing expert Clancy noted that some of the holes were made by high-velocity particles propelled from inside the aircraft such as those produced by an explosion. Part of the panel was blackened by fire.
This area, too, came with hundreds of tiny fragments, again indicative of an explosion. One hole in the skin was described as something skin to a bullet-hole. While Clancy was guarded, the Indians had concluded there was explosive loading in this part of the aircraft while Clancy said it showed the ‘possibility’ of an explosive.
The CASB report said examination of the wreckage indicated that the right wing and the number 3 engine suffered impact damage in the air. Further, the forward cargo door was broken and blown off from the aircraft and may have struck the wing and the engine. ‘The damage to the door and the fuselage skin near the door appeared to have been caused by an outward force and the fracture surfaces of the door appeared to be badly frayed.
‘A failure of this door would explain the impact damage to the right wing areas. The door failing as an initial event would cause an explosive decompression leading to downward forces on the cabin floor as a result of the differences in pressure between the upper and lower portions of the aircraft. However, examination showed that the cabin floor panels separated from the support structure in an upward direction. Also, passenger seats recovered showed they had been subjected to an upward force from below. They showed that seats in the rear had their back legs buckled and the seats toward the front had both front and back legs buckled. This indicates the vertical force was greater at the front than the rear of the aircraft.’
It didn’t say in so many words, but what the CASB was saying was that the door being blown away as a primary event would not have caused the upward force on the cabin floor boards. The door being blown away and the upward force could only mean one thing. That an explosion blew away the door and caused a vertical load from the bottom to the top.
Again, very cautiously, the board made this remark in its report: ‘There is a considerable amount of circumstantial evidence and other evidence that an explosive device caused the occurrence. The evidence indicates that if there was an explosion, it most likely occurred in the forward cargo hold, not the passenger and flight deck areas or exterior to the fuselage. Although an explosive device could have been placed in a cargo hold in a number of ways, the available evidence points to the events involving the checked baggage of M. and L. Singh in Vancouver.’
So now they had finally blurted it out. Where do you put the blame?
‘Canadian security arrangements in place prior to 23 June 1985 met or exceeded the international requirements for civil air transportation. However, before this date, the emphasis was on preventing the boarding of weapons including explosives in hand-luggage,’ said the authors of the report. Hijackings were considered the primary threat to airliners. But history has no shortage of examples of bag bombs.
‘In Canada, the Department of Transport (Transport Canada) is responsible for establishing overall security standards for airports and airlines and for the provision of certain security equipment and facilities at airports. By regulation air carriers are responsible for applying security standards for passengers, for baggage and cargo, and for ensuring security within individual aircraft. The RCMP provides physical security and responds to criminal incidents (No one mentioned crime prevention?).’
The report adds that airlines contract the services of private security firms to undertake security checks. But Transport Canada has established certain standards required for licensed security guards such as the completion of the Transport Canada passenger inspection training program and annual refresher training.
‘A significant number of the security guards [who were on duty X-raying and testing for explosives when Air India 182 left Toronto] did not meet the criteria with respect to completion of the training program and refresher training. In addition, the criteria do not require training for the screening of cargo and checked baggage.’
The report did not discuss the question of whether Transport Canada did not enforce the criteria which it set.
Instead, the report states that annex 17 of the International Civil Aviation Organization, to which Canada is a signatory, recommends: ‘That contracting states establish the necessary procedures to prevent the unauthorized introduction of explosives or incendiary devices in baggage or cargo intended to be carried on board aircraft.’
The report said there were provisions in place to prevent unauthorized boarding of cargo or bags on board aircraft.
‘However, if someone were to purchase a ticket, check in baggage and not board the aircraft, the baggage would in all likelihood have been authorized by the airline to be placed on board the aircraft. Therefore, it was possible to interline baggage unaccompanied and this explains how a suitcase was interlined to AI-182 from CP 60. It is not the normal practice of airlines to interline baggage if there is not a confirmed reservation to the destination. In this case, the ticket agent allowed the suitcase to proceed; however, if there had been a confirmed reservation, the suitcase would have been interlined unaccompanied without question.’
The report had forgotten one thing, though. How would that suitcase have gone to Toronto if a count had been taken of those who had checked in and boarded at Vancouver? Should not the suitcase of a no-show passenger have been removed? Would not X-raying at Vancouver airport have prevented L. Singh’s bag from going to Narita with its killer bomb?
The CASB pulled its punch when making a final pronouncement on the death of AI-182. It said the initial event was probably an explosion in the front hold. ‘This evidence is not conclusive. However, the evidence does not support any other conclusion.’
Many experts have been hired by the RCMP in recent years and computer projections support the argument that a bomb in the rear cargo hold was actually responsible for the crash.
It has become painfully clear that the terrorists had been reckless in their plot to blow up two Air India jets on the ground, one in Tokyo and one in London.
There is ample intelligence and evidence in the Sikh community that the original plot did not take into consideration the possibility of failure. Those who planned the event actually did believe there would be no loss of life. They had planned for success, not failure. And the twin Air India plots were an example of horrible failure. The spectacular detonation of the bomb in the air was not what the terrorists had aimed for. Their plan had gone wrong, and in the end, they had killed 329 innocent people. And, the same story of a failed idea applies in the case of the bomb explosion in Tokyo.
In the case of the Tokyo bomb, the time gap of 25 minutes allowed by the terrorist who timed the device was simply insufficient time to get that bag on board the waiting empty Air India Flight 301.
Instead, the bag blew up at the airport terminal as it was being transferred, killing two.
What is interesting is that in both cases, the terrorist had timed the bombs to blow up exactly 25 minutes after the aircraft had landed landed at London and Tokyo. They clearly had taken a careful look at time-tables of the two flights which were carrying the bombs.
The Air India Flight 182 bomb was scheduled to go off 25 minutes after the aircraft’s scheduled arrival at London. But the aircraft had been delayed in departing Toronto. In the case of the Tokyo bomb, the time difference is also 25 minutes after the landing of CP Flight 003.