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Air-India Accuses Canada of “Foisting” Blame for Crash

January 30, 1986

NEW DELHI, India (AP) _ Air-India accused Canadian authorities Thursday of trying to ″foist″ liability claims onto the airline for the crash of a jumbo jet last year that claimed 329 lives.

Meanwhile, testimony in the judicial hearing into the June 23 crash ended with India’s director of air safety, Hoshiar Singh Kohla, saying a bomb exploded in the forward cargo section about 40 to 50 feet from the cockpit microphone.

He said he based his conclusion on studies of the wreckage and analysis of the tape of the cockpit voice recorder at the Bhaba Atomic Research Center near Bombay.

During a flight from Toronto to New Delhi, the Boeing 747 plunged 31,000 feet into the North Atlantic off Ireland without warning, killing all aboard.

Investigators suspect Sikh terrorists smuggled a bomb onto the plane in Canada. At the time of the crash, anonymous callers to news organizations in North American claimed responsibility on behalf of Sikh separatist groups.

Canadian investigators said a man named Singh checked a suitcase onto the flight but did not board the plane himself. All males Sikhs adopt the name Singh, which means lion.

Several other experts also have concluded that a bomb caused the crash, although they differ on whether the explosion occurred in the front or rear cargo compartments.

Justice B.N. Kirpal, who heads the inquiry into the crash, is to issue his ruling on the cause of the crash by Feb. 28. All sides involved are anxious to absolve themselves of responsibility in an effort to avoid lawsuits.

Air-India lawyer Lalit Bhasin objected to a written report by the Canadian Aviation Safety Board that lists alleged security lapses by the airline and its contract agents in Canada.

″The report was filed in collusion with the government of Canada ... to help the Canadian government fight its civil liability claims in Canada,″ Bhasin said.

Bhasin accused Canadian government lawyer Ivan Whitehall of filing the report ″so I can face liability claims which you try to foist on me in Canada.″ Whitehall called the allegations ″scurrilous.″

The author of the report and the Canadian safety board’s chief investigator, Art LaFlamme, said the study did not fix responsibility for the crash. Any mention of security lapses was intended only to ″advance aviation safety,″ he said.

Sikhs are a minority in predominantly Hindu India, but they are a majority in the Indian state of Punjab, where extremists are seeking independence.