It was a tragic series of events. A bomb concealed in a radio was put on a passenger plane at one airport, then transferred onto another plane bound for a Trans-Atlantic crossing. The target plane never made it to its destination. It exploded at 30,000 feet above the earth, killing everyone on board. The passenger who checked the bag never took his seat and airport security failed to detect the explosive device.
No, we are not talking about Air India—we're talking about Pan Am Flight 103. The passenger plane exploded over a neighbourhood in Lockerbie, Scotland about forty minutes after taking off from London. The plane was heading for New York with close to 190 Americans among the 259 passengers and crew onboard.
The terrorist incident happened on December 21, 1988. That's right, over three years after Air India Flight 182 went down off the coast of Ireland, Libyan terrorists used the same modus operandi to bring down Pan Am 103. From interlining a checked bag from one aircraft to another to the passenger not boarding the flight, the Pan Am bombers used the Air India plan and executed it with deadly repercussions. That December day saw everyone onboard the flight lose their lives at the point of detonation, while 11 Scots died in their Lockerbie neighbourhood as 319 tonnes of wreckage and 100 tonnes of aviation fuel plummeted to earth from high above.
How did the international community miss the lessons offered after the Air India tragedy? The bombing of Air India Flight 182, as well as the explosion at Narita Airport in Tokyo, led to a detailed examination of airport security in Canada. A plane was no longer allowed to take off in Canada if the passenger who checked a bag had not taken their seat. Why wouldn't the entire world have enacted the same rule? The Pan Am tragedy was entirely preventable if only the powers that be had paid attention to the lessons provided by the worst act of aviation terror in world history—indeed, the worst act of terror prior to 9/11. Why did the Air India tragedy garner so little attention? Could it be that the victims of the Air India tragedy were predominately brown skinned? Could the roots of racial attitudes run so deep that those in power (mostly white men) could not see that an incident like the one that happened on June 23, 1985 could happen again?
This is another mind boggling outcome of the Air India bombings. While the investigation into Air India was a travesty in Canada, the reaction of the international community was equally inept. Pan Am 103 never should have gone down.
Sean Patrick Dolan's Blog
Sean Patrick Dolan is the author of the thriller, My Father's Secret, inspired by the Air India Bombing.