Victims’ families to mark 25th anniversary of Air India attacks

Twenty-five years after a suitcase bomb sent Air India Flight 182 plunging into the ocean, the families of those who died say they’ve learned to live with their losses.

VANCOUVER — Twenty-five years after a suitcase bomb sent Air India Flight 182 plunging into the ocean, the families of those who died say they’ve learned to live with their losses.

Many will gather in sombre memorials to mark the anniversary this Wednesday in Ottawa, Toronto, or Vancouver. Others will grieve privately.

“Over the years we have all come to deal with it in our own unique and distinctly personal ways,” said Lata Pada, whose husband and two teenaged daughters died when a suitcase bomb downed the plane over the Atlantic Ocean about five hours after leaving Montreal for Bombay.

Another blast, at Tokyo’s Narita Airport just an hour earlier on June 23, 1985, killed two baggage handlers as they transferred a suitcase destined for another Air India plane.

Preeti Berar of Brampton, Ont., was three when her father, 45-year-old Jogeshwar Berar, died aboard Flight 182.

“I just remember a lot of family coming over and grieving,” she said. “I remember seeing my mom living out of despair and my sisters and everyone hurting over it.”

As for memories of her father, there are only bits and pieces that Berar cherishes.

“I remember him washing the car, coming home from work and playing on the computer with me, or him making me breakfast,” she said.

Last week, a damning report from an inquiry into the bombings concluded that a “cascading series of errors” prevented authorities from averting the tragedy and that they should have known Flight 182 was a likely terrorist target.

The anguish of victims’ families only increased when then-prime minister Brian Mulroney offered condolences to the Indian government, even though most of the victims were Canadians.

“I think the result of that particular act on his part possibly will never be forgotten because it set the premise for how Canadians, at that time, 25 years ago, were unprepared to even acknowledge this as a Canadian tragedy,” Pada said from her home in Mississauga, Ont.

“I think much has changed since then.”

Flight 182 was heading toward London, the co-pilot’s chattering about the amount of Canadian beer the crew was bringing back to India, when suddenly there was a pop captured by the cockpit voice recorder, then silence.

The images of searchers scouring the waters off the coast of Ireland, hoping to find survivors, are burned into the memories of a generation of Canadians. It was the worst act of aviation terrorism in the world until the 9-11 attacks in the United States, and it remains the worst act of mass murder in Canadian history.

Only one person has ever been convicted in relation to the bombings. Inderjit Singh Reyat, an electrician from Duncan, B.C., was convicted of manslaughter for his part in supplying the explosives placed in the two suitcases that originated at Vancouver International Airport.

On March 17, 2005, two British Columbia men, Ripudaman Singh Malik and Ajaib Singh Bagri, were acquitted of mass murder and conspiracy charges in both bombings. Reyat faces another trial later this year on perjury charges related to his testimony at the murder trial of Malik and Bagri.