Vancouver, British Columbia, May 6 (Reuters): The bomb that allegedly destroyed Air-India Flight 182 in 1985 might never have been loaded on the plane had it not been for a belligerent passenger at a busy airport, a Canadian court heard on Monday.
Speaking at the trial of two men accused of plotting to destroy the aircraft Kanishka, ticket agent Jeanne Bakermans testified about an argument she had 18 years ago with a man, still not identified, who insisted his luggage be checked through the flight even though his seat had not been confirmed.
Police believe the man’s suitcase contained the explosives that destroyed the Air-India Boeing 747 off the coast of Ireland on June 23, 1985, killing all 329 people on board.
It was the deadliest act of commercial aviation sabotage at the time, before the attacks of September 11, 2001, and it is still the deadliest bombing of a commercial aircraft.
Ripudaman Singh Malik, a 56-year-old Vancouver businessman, and Ajaib Singh Bagri, 53, a mill worker from Kamloops, British Columbia, have pleaded not guilty to murder in a trial that started last month and is expected to last till 2004.
Canadian prosecutors allege the two were part of a plot by a group of Vancouver-based Sikh extremists to destroy Flight 182 and another Air-India aircraft.
The second bomb exploded in Tokyo’s Narita airport, killing two airport workers, 54 minutes before Flight 182 went down.
The police believe the bombers bought one-way tickets in Vancouver on flights that connected with Air-India and used them to load bomb-laden luggage without boarding the aircraft.
The tickets were allegedly bought in cash by men using the names M. Singh and L. Singh. The true identities of the men remain a mystery, and prosecutors have not produced evidence that either was Malik or Bagri.
Bakermans said M. Singh was upset when she refused to transfer his suitcase directly to Flight 182, but she gave in because the airport was very busy and his ticket was for an expensive business-class seat.
Computer records show Bakermans also checked in L. Singh’s luggage, but she said she had no memory of that transaction.
Bakermans told the court she did not remember asking M. Singh for identification or if she gave L. Singh’s passport a careful review. “Security was different then,” she said.
Most of the passengers on Flight 182 were families from eastern and central Canada who were travelling to India to visit relatives.
Canada has agreed to pay for relatives of the victims to attend the trial in Vancouver for up to one week, and several were in court on Monday, having travelled to Canada from India.
“It is so painful... Because we lost our dear ones, we need to be here to see the men,” said Ram Reddy of Chennai.