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Somewhere tucked away in Jeannie Adams’ memory was a vital clue. The RCMP had gone over and over the CP Air passenger clerk’s story about the East Indian male with sparkling eyes who had appeared at her wicket on 22 June at Vancouver International Airport. First she had told her story to the RCMP officers from Richmond, then another official had arrived to go over her story to make sure nothing had been over-looked. After that she had gone over to police headquarters to make a composite drawing of the pesky passenger she wished she had never met. They had come back later to show her pictures of several possible suspects. Included with these were pictures of the infamous Sikh pair Lal Singh and Ammand Singh, the two fugitives from US law hunted by the Secret Service and the FBI.
She had shaken her head. No, none of these men looked familiar. And now the routine was to begin all over again. A tape recorder was whirring away as two Mounties asked the questions at RCMP headquarters on Heather and 37th Avenue in Vancouver. Other officers involved in the Crash Investigation Team were standing around.
Adams was nervous. Life had been miserable since that day the Singh had made a fuss with her to get his bag interlined directly onto Air India Flight 182 in Toronto. Often, in the middle of the night, she would run to the door. Would accomplices come back to get her for fear she could recognize the man? Would her name appear in the newspaper headlines? Would she lose her job? Had she violated procedure by interlining a passenger’s bag beyond the point for which he held a confirmed reservation? Her union had already asked her not to worry, they’d back her up if the company made any trouble. In any case, CP Air wasn’t about to admit that a violation of procedure had occurred.
But now that tape recorder was making her nervous. She started to ramble, jumping from one place to another in her account. Constable Tom Armet, a towering Mountie who stands six foot two and weighs 190 pounds, noticed her discomfort. Relax, he said. Don’t let the tape thing worry you. She was being asked to go back to the morning of Saturday, 22 June. Back to about 8:00 a.m. when the man had turned up in her lineup as she checked in passengers for CP Flight 60 to Toronto.
Passengers had begun crowding into the airport for weekend getaways and the first flights of the morning. At Air Canada and CP Air counters in the departure lounges, passengers were lining up for 9:00 a.m. flights to Toronto. It was like a madhouse that weekend, at least at Jeannie Adams’ counter as she stood behind wicket 26. But it was just another Saturday in Adams’ ten years behind the counter as she checked in the passengers one by one.
Wearing heels, standing about five-foot-six, in the usual gray dress of CP Air ground personnel, she surveyed the long queue of 30 to 40 people checking in at the counter. The time was shortly after 8:00 a.m. when she came face-to-face with a man with a ‘cute’ little face and ‘sparkling eyes’ whom she would also call a ‘jerk’ later. Life would never be the same again for her – she was about to become a pawn in a terrorist act, which would send shockwaves around the world less than 24 hours later.
‘It was a busy morning,’ she recalled. ‘And we had line-ups from the check-in counter to our ticket counter. It was extremely busy – I had maybe 30 people in my line-up or more – a very busy time of the morning.’
Usually check-ins are routine; at best they take only 30 seconds for passengers who are properly ticketed, Adams said. ‘The passenger comes up, he has a ticket, the flight they are going on … you ask them smoking or non-smoking and you check them in …’ That’s how simple it is most of the time, and that’s how it worked for her most of the time. But this time it was to be different. The passenger was a man with a very specific purpose. His ticket coupon bore the name Mr. M. Singh. He was in his mid-30s, wore a gray suit and was about five foot seven. He spoke good English as he handed his one-way ticket to New Delhi to Adams.
‘I remember the passenger because it was so busy and because he was taking up my time. He had a ticket to go to Toronto and then Delhi. This man, I checked his bag to Toronto. I put a Toronto tag on, I remember putting an orange Toronto tag on it. And I checked him in, gave him a seat and he wanted his bag checked to Delhi…There must have been something wrong with his ticket because I looked at his reservation file. I went out of the check-in file (on her computer) and went into the reservation side – I remember his file clearly.
‘He had Flight 60 to Toronto confirmed,’ Adams recalled. ‘Another flight, Toronto – Mirabel on the holding list. And another Air India flight, Montreal – Delhi… and he wanted his bag checked to Delhi.
‘And I said, “I can’t do that, sir, because you’re not confirmed on the flight.” He said “Yes I am confirmed” and he said, “This is my ticket”, – and I said, “Your ticket doesn’t read that you’re confirmed,” and I said “I can’t do it.” He said, “But then I’ll have to pick up my baggage and transfer it” and I said, “I realize that but we’re not supposed to check your baggage through.” But M. Singh wasn’t about to accept that. He had to get that bag aboard by hook or by crook. He said, “I phoned Air India. I am confirmed on it.”
Adams, by this time slightly irritated by the man’s insistence on getting his luggage sent through to India, tried to explain that he might be confirmed in Air India’s computer but her computer said otherwise. His ticket only showed he had an ‘RQ’ – meaning requested reservation – but Singh stuck to his guns, maintaining that he didn’t want the hassle of transferring his bag in Toronto. The line-up behind Singh was getting longer and longer. It was getting to a point where Adams was saying to herself, ‘Come on, get on with it.’
Then the man said something else to her that made Adams more than just irritated.
‘He said “Wait”,’ Adams said, recalling M. Singh’s response. ‘”I’ll get my brother for you.”
‘The line-ups were busy. I thought, You gotta be crazy, and I said to him, “I don’t have time to talk to your brother”,’ she explained to Armet and Constable John Hoffman. ‘He started to move away from my line-up and leaving his baggage and his ticket. I said, “I don’t have time to talk to your brother,” so he came back and I said,
“Okay, I’ll check it through, but you have to check with Air India when you get to Toronto.”‘
It’s a wonder Singh didn’t jump for joy. The man standing behind him was by now paying attention to the fuss – he too suggested that Singh should check with Air India in Toronto.
‘I remember ripping the tag off, and I remember thinking, You jerk, you’re taking up my time…’ said Adams. She said that she repeated at least five times to Singh that he should check with Air India in Toronto so they could take off his luggage in case there was no room on the flight. Then she put a pink ‘interline tag’ on the bag and wrote out the destinations on the tag: ‘Vancouver – Toronto on CP, Toronto – Mirabel and Montreal – Delhi as the final destination.’ She gave him seat 10b and wrote out his boarding pass.
‘Could you just describe this Mister Singh, from the best of your memory?’ Hoffman asked. ‘Maybe just sorta think about it for a few seconds and then try and run a description by me, as much as you can recall, okay?’
‘He was an East Indian gentleman,’ she recalled. ‘I feel if I had to describe him, he was probably someone born outside the country but Had been westernized. Because he had longish, not longish but more curl – longer than yours – to the ears hair that was softly waved. It was in a western type style, not someone that you would consider who was out of the country. I think he was dressed in a suit – he didn’t have a turban, I don’t recall a beard. He had a kind of roundish looking face – I remember thinking he was not a bad looking East Indian.
‘Some of them are very foreign looking,’ she added. ‘I recall that he looked nice – he wasn’t dressed, like, in Zeller’s type clothes or with a plaid shirt and a fairly nicely dressed…’
‘How about his language? Anything descriptive that might help us a bit?’ Hoffman prompted.
‘He had that East Indian dialect,’ Adams went on, ‘but it wasn’t so heavy you can’t understand it. Where some people, if they are born outside the country you have a hard time because they sound quite mumbly… He was definitely East Indian but not straight from the country.’
‘He didn’t have an earring in his ear or anything like that?’ the Mountie wondered.
‘No, he had a rounder face, sometimes hey have very narrow, thin, gaunter looking faces or evil-looking faces, I remember thinking he had a rounder, kind of smiley-looking face, he was kind of … sparkly-eyed – pleasant.’
‘Like he’s a live sorta kinda guy,’ added Hoffman helpfully. ‘Not a dead sorta beat, I gotcha …’
Adams then told the officers she felt that he knew the system, that he had traveled before and knew how the luggage check-in system worked. She added that he appeared very concerned about getting his bag aboard Air India. As she talked further with the Mounties it became apparent that Adams had worried later about having checked M. Singh’s bag straight through to Air India.
‘The only thing I feel very worried about now,’ she said, ‘is that there was no security check on Air India. So, if that is true, then I would … a straight flight … that, if I had called a, a, a supervisor, a supervisor could have over-ridden me too and said check him right through.’
‘So what influenced you to check it through, do you recall?’ Hoffman asked.
‘Feeling that the passenger was right to that, if he had called Air India and had it confirmed, that if he had to pick up his baggage from CP Air in Toronto, which is very slow at uh, baggage output, and having to pick it up and go upstairs and check in with Air India he might miss his flight,’ Adams replied.
‘Now, what about his brother, the brother he said he would get to prove he had called Air India?’ Hoffman asked.
‘He was going to leave my line-up to get his brother. And I thought, You’re crazy, I don’t have time to talk to your brother,’ Adams replied.
‘Did you ever see his brother?’
‘No, but he was leaving his baggage and his tickets to go get his brother,’ She said.
‘So, if I had called his bluff, he’d have had to get someone.’
Adams recalled that the man had only one bag. She remembered that because she had ripped off the only one tag from it. The one she had originally marked for Toronto, before substituting the new one, marked Toronto-New Delhi. The bag probably weighed about 50 pounds, she thought, and her best recollection was that it was burgundy in color.
Another thing she remembered in the conversation with police was that the pushy Singh had reminded her that he was traveling business class.
‘He said, “I’m paying full fare to go to India. That’s why I paid full fare, so that I could get my bags checked through” … I recall that.’ Adams added that paying the full fare, business class, sometimes gets you better treatment than the excursion fare.
Adams – who, incidentally, is married to Bob Adams who also works at the Vancouver Airport – told the police officers she was relieved when Singh finally left with his boarding pass. He had taken up more than five minutes of her time making a fuss about his bag, although he was no more pushy than other passengers sometimes are on other routes. Signing with relief that he had gone, she put on a smile for the man who had been waiting patiently behind Singh all this time. She apologized to the middle-aged man. He said it was okay, he understood.
Later she recalled how she started putting two and two together, after Air India Flight 182 had plunged into the Atlantic. Tom Armet asked her if she recalled discussing M. Singh with any of her co-workers.
‘Only about two or three days later, when I thought of it then, I though, I didn’t realize the London plane that went down was carrying on to Delhi and I said, I remember having a hassle with one passenger,’ she replied. ‘I said gee, I felt bad now. Maybe he was on that plane … then I put two and two together.’
Adams was in for another surprise as she talked to the RCMP. As a matter of fact it came as a shock when a police artist gently told her that she also might have been the one who checked in L. Singh for his flight to Tokyo via CP Air Flight 003 connecting with Air India Flight 301 to Bangkok. L. Singh’s reservations were in order and, unlike M. Singh, he was confirmed on both flights. But he didn’t board the flight for Tokyo.
Adams is still wondering today if he was the brother M. Singh referred to when he told her he would get his brother to confirm that he had called Air India and they had okayed his trip form Toronto to New Delhi.
‘I thought (I had done) well, after I did the composite drawing with Constable Blair, (and) he said okay and how do you rate them? I said six to seven (on a scale of ten). He said, “Now, what do you remember about the other guy?” And I said, “What other guy?” (He said) just the guy who went Vancouver, Tokyo … And I said, “Well, why should I remember him?” and he said, “Because you checked him in too” and I just went …I said, “You gotta be kidding!”…
‘And I said I didn’t realize that and I said, “Oh, rats!” And we kinda half-joked about it and I said, “We thought … we didn’t think we would tell you before you did the composite drawing ’cause it might be on your mind.”‘
Adams’ ticket agent code, D-2, was on L. Singh’s ticket as well a M. Singh’s.
RCMP did a thorough check of whether an M. Singh had boarded the CP Flight 60 from Vancouver. It became evident that he hadn’t. On Air India Flight 182, there was another man with the same initial and surname. He was Mukhtiar Singh, an Indian tourist who had bought his tickets in India and was returning home. He was 58 years old and his body was found and identified in Cork.
The picture was complete now. The circumstantial evidence was in. At a meeting at RCMP headquarters, police took stock of their findings so far. It was a startling picture that could be explained only if Air India Flight 182 had been downed by a bomb.
As they considered what to do next, this is the point-by-point summary that members of the task force were presented with:
The Mounties were now convinced that only believers in lightning striking twice could dispute the fact that the two disasters were linked and that there had been a bomb aboard Air India Flight 182. They had also concluded that whoever had put those bombs on board the planes was deliberately targeting Air India flights in different parts of the world, and hoping for near-simultaneous explosions. Few people could argue with that logic.
Absolute confirmation was still needed, however, that M. Singh’s bag did in fact get aboard Air India 182. That answer would be found in Toronto. But first, another piece of the jigsaw had to be put in its place in Vancouver.