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46 year old mystery unravelling

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IT reports that an old mystery is finally reaching its conclusion:

An Indian diplomatic bag containing newspapers, magazines, calendars and mails has finally reached the foreign office in the Capital – 46 years after it went missing following an Air India plane crash in the French Alps.

The canvas bag, weighing about 9 kg and stamped “Diplomatic mail” and “Ministry of External Affairs”, was recovered by mountain rescue worker Arnaud Christmann and his neighbour Jules Berger on August 21 on Mont Blanc.

They spotted ‘ something shining’ on the Bossons glacier, close to where the Air India flight flying from Mumbai to New York had crashed in January 1966 killing all 117 on board, including top Indian nuclear scientist Homi J. Bhabha.

MSN had a short piece on Bhabha some time back, which included a sentence about his death that was later incorporated into the Wikipedia article:

Homi Jehangir Bhabha, born October 30, 1909 was an Indian nuclear physicist who played a major role in the development of the Indian atomic energy program and is considered to be the father of India’s nuclear program.

He died when Air India Flight 101 crashed near Mont Blanc in January 1966. Conspiracy theories point to a sabotage by the CIA intended at impeding India’s nuclear program, but his death still remains a mystery.

After his death, the Atomic Energy Establishment was renamed as the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre in his honour. Bhabha also encouraged research in electronics, space science, radio astronomy and microbiology. The famed radio telescope at Ooty, India was his initiative, and it became a reality in 1970. Bhabha has since become known as the “Father of India’s Atomic Energy Programme”.

Aviation Safety Net records:

The Boeing 707, named “Kanchenjunga”, operated on a flight from Mumbai (Bombay) to London via Delhi, Beirut and Geneva. The flight to and takeoff from Beirut where routine, except for a failure of the no. 2 VOR. At 07:00 GMT the pilot reported reaching FL190 to Geneva ACC. He was told to maintain that flight level “unless able to descend VMC one thousand on top”. The pilot confirmed this and added that they were passing abeam Mont Blanc. The controller noted that the flight wasn’t abeam Mont Blanc yet and radioed “you have 5 miles to the Mont Blanc”, to which the pilot answered with “Roger.” Flight 101 then started to descend from FL190 until it struck the Mont Blanc at an elevation of 15585 feet.

PROBABLE CAUSE: “The commission concluded that the most likely hypothesis was the following: a) The pilot-in-command, who knew on leaving Beirut that one of the VORs was unserviceable, miscalculated his position in relation to Mont Blanc and reported his own estimate of this position to the controller; the radar controller noted the error, determined the position of the aircraft correctly and passed a communication to the aircraft which, he believed, would enable it to correct its position.; b) For want of a sufficiently precise phraseology, the correction was mis-understood by the pilot who, under the mistaken impression that he had passed the ridge leading to the summit and was still at a flight level which afforded sufficient safety clearance over the top of Mont Blanc, continued his descent.”

Flight Global had reported then:

AS reported briefly in last week’s issue (page 131) an Air-India Boeing 707-437, registration VT-DMN, hit Rocher de la Tournette, a 15,330ft peak of Mont Blanc (15,782ft) at 0707hr GMT on January 24 while descending on an approach to Geneva. A minute before the trace of the aircraft disappeared from Geneva radar screens the pilot, Capt J. T. d’Souza reported his height as 18,600ft.

The 707, en route from Bombay to New York via Beirut, Geneva and London, was reported to have chosen to make a procedural let-down rather than one under radar control. Mont Blanc itself is a reporting point where final let-downs to the Geneva approach pattern are initiated. Arrival over the Mont Blanc reporting point, however, would be indicated to the crew only by a cross bearing from Lyon VOR some 82 n.m. distant in an area where ground aids are notoriously unreliable, even at medium ranges, because of the terrain.

In view of the strong headwinds which would be delaying the 707 and the weakness of the bearing information from Lyon the captain may have thought he was well past Mont Blanc and begun the descent Mont Blanc is also the point where Italian radar hands over control of aircraft to Geneva radar, but, once again, terrain problems often cause aircraft traces to be lost.

All 11 crew members and 106 passengers died. This was the first accident to a scheduled flight of Air India and was recorded as the 2nd worst airlines disaster of that time, and still remains the 5th worst. The failure of a VOR noticed after leaving Beirut gave rise to the then widely aired theory of CIA sabotage (CIA was then reputedly very widely involved in black ops). However, the contingent nature of the accident makes it a very unlikely theory.

The glacier swallowed the remains of the crash; little was found then. But in the last decade the same glacier has been disgorging bits and pieces from the crash. Maybe sometime human remains will begin to be recovered.

27 September, 2013

Guardian reports another possible find from the same crash:

It was an unexpected find for the young French alpinist as he approached the summit of Mont Blanc. Poking out of the ice and snow on the shoulder of western Europe’s highest mountain was a metal box containing precious gems – including emeralds, rubies and sapphires – worth hundreds of thousands of euros that had lain hidden for about 50 years.

The precious stones, around 100 in total, were neatly packed into sachets, some marked with “Made in India”. It soon became clear that the historic haul, which has since been valued by jewellers at up €246,000 (£205,000), had belonged to someone on one of two Air India flights that crashed in 1950 and 1966, killing a total of more than 100 people.

The climber carried the treasure down the mountain and straight to local police. The prefect’s office is now contacting Indian authorities to see if it is possible to trace the owner or their relatives.

“You can say the climber who made this find is someone very honest,” local gendarme chief Sylvain Merly said.

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Written by Arhopala Bazaloides

September 19, 2012 at 6:31 am

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