This Day in History (23-Jun-1985) – Air India Boeing 747 ‘Kanishka’ Crashes into the Atlantic Ocean

Shortly after Operation Blue Star, members of the Khalistan movement in Canada gather people to avenge the attacks on the Golden Temple. On June 23rd 1985, a certain Manjit Singh turned up to check in for Canadian Pacific airlines flight from Vancouver to Toronto. He asked the check in agent to transfer his bags to Air India flight 181 and then to flight 182. Singh was never identified after check in and the Canadian Pacific airlines flight from Toronto to Montreal departed without him, but with his bag on the flight.

The Canadian Pacific airlines flight landed in Toronto and Singh’s bag were transferred to Air India’s flight 182. All bags were to be either X ray screened, or checked by hand. The break down of an X-ray machine that day led to security officials using PDD-4 explosive sniffer which made a loud scream if it detected an explosive. This device made a low beep when passed near a maroon suitcase with a zipper going all around. Since officials did not know what to do if the machine made a low beep, they let the bag go. A bomb exploded on board while the aircraft was at an altitude of 31,000 feet. All 329 on board the flight, including passengers and crew members, perished in this deadly air disaster. The accident proved to be the worst aviation disaster over sea. The culprit, as it was later detected, was a suitcase in the forward cargo hold which held explosives responsible for this disaster.

On the same day, a man by the name L. Singh in Vancouver checked in on a Canadian Pacific flight from Vancouver to Tokyo with one piece of luggage which was supposed to be transferred to Air India flight 301 to Bangkok. L. Singh was later never identified and never boarded the flight, though his bag went on the flight to Tokyo. About an hour after Kanishka crashed, a bomb went off in a bag at Tokyo’s Narita airport killing two baggage handlers and injuring four in the process. This bomb was intended for the Air India flight 301 from Tokyo to Bangkok, but exploded before it was loaded onto the aircraft. No Sikh extremist organisation claimed responsibility of either of the events.



This Day in History (7-Jun-1984) – Indian Army troops stormed the Golden Temple in Amritsar, the holiest of Sikh shrines

The Khalistan Movement originally started in the early 1940’s and 50’s, but the movement was most popular in the 1970s and 1980s. Operation Blue Star was launched to eliminate Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale and his followers who had sought cover in the Amritsar Harmandir Sahib Complex during demand of Khalistan. The armed Sikhs within the Harmandir Sahib were led by Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale and former Maj. Gen. Shabeg Singh. In order to resolve crisis, Indira Gandhi first asked Lt. Gen. S. K. Sinha, then Vice-Chief of Indian Army and selected to become the next Army chief, to prepare a position paper for assault on the Golden Temple. Lt. Gen. Sinha advised against any such move and suggested the government adopt an alternative solution. A controversial decision was made to replace him with General Arun Shridhar Vaidya as the Chief of the Indian army. General Vaidya, assisted by Lt. Gen. K Sundarji as Vice-Chief, planned and coordinated Operation Blue Star.

Operation Blue Star was comprised of two operations: Operation Shop, which kept the curfew orders in check and Operation Metal, concerned to the Harmandir Sahib complex. On 3 June, a 36-hour curfew was imposed on the state of Punjab with all methods of communication and public travel suspended. Electricity supplies were also interrupted, creating a total blackout and cutting off the state from the rest of India and the world. Complete censorship was enforced on the news media. The Indian Army stormed Harmandir Sahib on the night of 5 June under the command of Kuldip Singh Brar. Army used tanks, heavy artillery, helicopters and armored vehicles.The forces had full control of Harmandir Sahib by the morning of 7 June. Sikh leaders Bhindranwale and Shabeg Singh were killed in the operation.

The Army placed total casualties at; other than military: 492 dead, Military: 136 killed and 220 wounded. Post Operation events claimed the life of a Prime Minister and subsequently the lives of over 8,000 Sikhs at the hands of vengeful mobs in 1984. General Vaidya also was gunned down within 2 years.