LONDON – Today in Aviation 35 years ago was the bombing of Air India (AI) Flight 182 on June 23, 1985.

The flight was operating its routine Montreal-London-Delhi route rotation at 31,000 feet when the aircraft exploded due to bombs planted by Canadian Sikh terrorists.

The remains of the aircraft fell out of the sky from 31,000 feet into the Atlantic Ocean around 120 miles southwest of Ireland. The incident killed all 329 people on board.

The aircraft, VT-EFO, was a Boeing 747-237B delivered to the carrier in June 1978, giving it an age of seven years exactly the day it crashed.

Photo of VT-EFO weeks before the crash. Photo: Wikimedia.

The deadliest aviation accident in the industry

This accident was the largest mass killing in Canadian history and was the deadliest aviation accident in the history of Air India and in the industry until the September 11 Attacks in 2001.

A handful of Babbar Khalsa members were arrested and tried for the bombing, but there was only ever one official conviction made.

This was the Inderjit Singh Reyat, who was a Canadian national affiliated with International Sikh Youth Federation which is a banned terrorist organisation in many states globally.

Irish Naval Service recovering bodies from the disaster. Photo: Wikimedia.

A cascading series of errors

Reyat pleaded guilty to manslaughter in 2003 and was sentenced to a 15-year prison sentence.

This means that the investigation and prosecution lasted almost 30 years, making it the most expensive inquiry and trial in Canadian history, costing around C$130m.

The inquiry stated that there was a “cascading series of errors” by the Canadian Government including the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service as those institutions had allowed the attack to take place.

This was because in late 1984, two whistle-blowers spoke to authorities stating that there would be bomb plots on this particular flight due to the amount of conflict between Sikh Canadians and Hindu Canadians.

These claims were dismissed by the authorities. Nevertheless, AI still requested additional security for those flights at the time.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Lessons learned

Eventually in the inquiries, the Canadian and Indian authorities accepted that the bomb was the cause of the aircraft to crash.

Ripudaman Singh Malik and Ajaib Singh Bagri, who were seen as the main perpetrators, were initially charged with 329 counts of first-degree murder.

The case was thrown out due to inadequate evidence linking them both to the crime. This case costed Canadian authorities around C$7.2m alone.

It remains clear that nowadays, there would not be this significant of mismanagement in criminal proceedings when it comes to aviation-based terrorism as data is more easily accessible.

Overall, whilst this crash was heinous in its nature, it also sent lessons to authorities in Canada about tighter security advancements and to focus more on the issues at heart that may cause conflict to the point of putting a bomb on an aircraft.