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Sabotage Not Ruled Out in Crashes, Official Says

October 20, 1988

GUWAHATI, India (AP) _ A government official said Thursday that investigators are not ruling out sabotage as the cause of two domestic airline crashes that killed 165 people.

Another commercial airplane, an Indian Airlines Airbus carrying 209 people, made an emergency landing after takeoff Thursday from the southern city of Madras, airline officials said. They said the plane apparently developed technical problems.

Rescue workers gave up hope of finding survivors from the crash of a Fokker Friendship airplane that slammed into a hill Wednesday in the eastern state of Assam.

Federal Aviation Minister Shiv Raj Patil made a three-hour trek to the crash site.

″Bodies were strewn all around,″ he told reporters after returning to Guwahati. ″There can be no survivors.″ The plane carried 31 passengers and four crew members.

Vayudoot, the domestic carrier that operated the plane, suspended service in the region for at least five days because of an aircraft shortage, United News of India reported.

It normally operates four planes in the area, but another plane was damaged recently when it hit an Indian Airlines truck at Calcutta airport, UNI said.

In the western city of Ahmadabad, investigators were examining the wreckage of an Indian Airlines Boeing 737 that crashed Wednesday while trying to land in thick fog. All but five of the 135 people on board died.

Forensic experts collected samples of blood-stained debris, grass and soil to check for residue from explosives.

″Two crashes on the same day in a few hours is too much of a coincidence,″ said one government official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The two planes crashed within two hours of each other.

Villagers in the area said they heard an explosion shortly before the Fokker crashed, but Vayudoot officials blamed the accident on the rainy weather. The pilot reported zero visibility minutes before losing radio contact, said

J.C. Barua, a Vayudoot spokesman, said the pilot’s last message to the control tower at Guwahati airport was, ″I can’t see anything.″

The government has set up courts of inquiry to investigate both crashes and announced compensation of about $14,000 each to families of victims.

Both airlines have come under fire recently for poor management and failing to meet safety standards. The charges were repeated in Thursday’s newspapers.

The Indian Post in Bombay said aviation experts had warned of a major air disaster ″in view of the highly questionable manner in which civil aviation, particularly Indian Airlines and Vayudoot, has been managed.″

″Demoralization, indiscipline and slippages in technical maintenance, compunded by overflogging planes and pilots have ... Dangerously affected the performance of the airline,″ the newspaper said.

Indian Airlines flies to 73 airports in India and operates some flights to neighboring countries. Vayudoot flies mainly to smaller domestic centers not covered by Indian Airlines. Both carriers are owned by the government.

A third state-owned airline, Air-India, flies only international routes.

Update hourly