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Paper Reports Theory That Air-India Jet Hit Soviet Space Debris

July 19, 1985

LONDON (AP) _ The Daily Mail newspaper reported today that the Indian team investigating the crash of an Air-India jet in which all 329 people aboard perished is examining a theory that the plane may have been hit by falling debris from a Soviet space rocket.

In Bombay, where tapes from the ill-fated Boeing 747 are under analysis, Indian aviation experts dismissed the report.

″We’re not even looking at it,″ said one investigator, who asked not to be identified by name. He told The Associated Press, ″We haven’t even taken it into consideration.″

The London tabloid said that at almost exactly the same time the jumbo jet vanished from radar screens off Ireland, three discarded booster rockets from the Soviet space shot Progress 24 were re-entering the atmosphere on the same latitude.

″Investigators believe debris from the rockets may not have been burned up during the plunge to Earth and could have crashed head-on into the cockpit at several thousand miles an hour,″ the newspaper said.

But the paper stressed it was only a theory.

″Although a bomb is still thought by most international experts to be the most likely cause of the accident, no firm evidence has yet been established to show that there was an explosion on board,″ said the report by the Daily Mail’s defense correspondent, Harvey Elliott.

The plane crashed into the Atlantic 120 miles off the southwest Irish coast on June 23. The plane was on a flight from Toronto to Bombay, heading for a refueling stop at London, when the disaster occurred.

The paper said the unmanned Progress 24 was launched June 20 to take fuel and supplies to Soviet cosmonauts sent up a month ago aboard Soyuz T13 to reopen the space station Salyut 7.

It said the two Soviet craft docked June 23. The three booster rockets and other equipment, including air tanks, were jettisoned and fell in an east-to- west orbit.

The paper added: ″Space intelligence investigations in Britain and America show that the rocket motors crossed the path of the jumbo about 15 minutes after it crashed. But the team in India is worried that other ... large pieces of metal may not have burned up by the time they crossed its path.″

The Daily Mail did not identify the source of its report.

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