PM Narendra Modi to unveil memorial today for victims of AI crashes

PM Narendra Modi to unveil memorial today for victims of AI crashes

ON THE morning of November 3, 1950, Air India flight AI 245, Malabar Princess, from Bombay to London, crashed at the Mont Blanc Massif, killing all 48 people on board. Sixteen years later, on January 24, 1966, another Air India flight 101, Kanchenjunga, from Bombay to London, crashed near the same spot, killing all 117 people on board including renowned nuclear physicist Dr Homi Jehangir Bhabha.

Decades later, Prime Minister Narendra Modi will unveil a memorial for the victims of the two plane crashes in Saint Gervais, near the French Alps, about five hours from Paris, via video conference on Friday.

Built in the form of a cairn — a stack of stones — the monument is symbolic of “perfectly aligned thoughts” and ties of the two countries, officials here said.

“The younger generation does not know anything about those two crashes. With the Prime Minister talking about it tomorrow, it will once again be brought to the consciousness of the people. It is, after all, part of our aviation history,” said Chandan R Barooah (54), an Air India flight purser whose father Ramesh Chandra Barooah, an Air India flight engineer, died in the 1966 crash.

It was by pure chance that an Indian diplomatic bag that went down with the Air India aircraft that crashed in January 1966 was discovered in the French Alps in August 2012. The diplomatic bag, with markings saying “diplomatic mail” and “Ministry of External Affairs”, was recovered from Mont Blanc by a mountain rescue worker and his neighbour, after some tourists spotted it on a glacier.

And, in a remarkable coincidence, the bag returned home in Barooah’s custody. Barooah said it was out of curiosity that he had inquired about the bag handed over to him in September 2012 by an Indian Embassy official in Paris, with the instruction that it was of “historic value”. The official told him that the bag was a remnant of the Air India crash in which Homi J Bhabha had died.

Barooah said his eyes welled up. “It was all a matter of destiny… the remnants of that crash on my flight, that too in my custody,” he told The Indian Express.

Classified as “Type C”, the 9-kg bag had no official or secret diplomatic communication. It had newspapers with feature stories on the Vietnam War, a photograph of then prime minister Indira Gandhi, and the planned exchange of a captured air crew between India and Pakistan. “Till today, the cause of the two accidents at the same place near Mont Blanc with the same airline, Air India, remains a mystery. I hope that with the PM talking about the crash, there is some closure on the investigations,” he said.