Monday, 22 June 2015

30th anniversary of Air India Flight 182 disaster

As the morning sunshine slides across a memorial tomorrow morning in West Cork, a shadow on a sundial will mark the moment a jumbo jet was blasted out off the sky off the south-west coast.

At exactly 8.13am on June 23, 1985, Air India Flight 182 — en route from Montreal to New Delhi with a stopover in London — disappeared from radar screens at Shannon.

A total of 329 people were killed, including 268 Canadian citizens, 27 Britons, and 24 Indians. The majority of the victims were Canadian citizens of Indian ancestry. The incident was the largest mass murder in Canadian history. It was the deadliest terrorist attack involving an airplane until 9/11. It is also the deadliest aircraft bombing.

With no survivors, the biggest operation in the history of the State to recover bodies got under way with the Irish Naval Service being backed by the RAF, Royal Navy, fishing trawlers, merchant ships and coastguard teams.

Cork Airport and the city’s then Regional Hospital were the nerve centres as over 1,000 relatives, mainly Canadians of Indian origin, arrived to identify the victims.

Rear Admiral Mark Mellett of the navy recalls the search which would shed light on what happened to the ill-fated jumbo jet.

“Before we could go to the scene, American and Canadian experts had to fit a side scan sonar [to the vessel] which had the capacity to pick up transmissions from the black boxes — which are actually red.

“Much of the wreckage was about 2,000 metres below the surface. The ship was towing the sonar and we had to try and map the wreckage which was scattered over several square kilometres of the seabed,” he said.

The sonar was towed out about a mile behind the ship, scanning the ocean floor and searching for an all important ‘ping’ transmission from the black box.

As the technology was so new, he said, “we were learning as we went along”.

The navy was using a navigation system called DECCA which relied solely on land-based masts to show position. Unfortunately there was very poor coverage from DECCA in the search area.

“Then we got the pings from a black box. Until recovered we didn’t really trust what we had because we had never did that before.” Fingers were crossed as another ship brought in a deep water remotely controlled vehicle which retrieved the device.

He said that when he and some of LÉ Eithne’s crew saw the bodies being unloaded from LÉ Aisling they wanted to play their part in the mission and help find the black boxes.

“There was a sense of elation when this happened,” Rear Admiral Mellett said.

By 09:13 GMT, the cargo ship Laurentian Forest discovered wreckage of the aircraft and many bodies floating in the water. India's civil aviation minister announced the possibility that the plane had been destroyed by a bomb, and the cause was probably some sort of explosion. Previous 747s had been damaged or destroyed on the ground, but this was the first jumbo jet downed by sabotage.

The bomb killed all 22 crew and 307 passengers. 132 bodies were recovered; 197 were lost at sea. Eight bodies exhibited "flail pattern" injuries, indicating that they had exited the aircraft before it hit the water. This was a sign that the aircraft had broken up in mid-air. Twenty-six bodies showed signs of hypoxia (lack of oxygen). Twenty-five, mostly victims who were seated near windows, showed signs of explosive decompression. Twenty-three had signs of "injuries from a vertical force". Twenty-one passengers were found with little or no clothing.

One official quoted in the report stated, "All victims have been stated in the PM reports to have died of multiple injuries. Two of the dead, one infant and one child, are reported to have died of asphyxia. There is no doubt about the asphyxial death of the infant. In the case of the other child (Body No 93) there was some doubt because the findings could also be caused due to the child undergoing tumbling or spinning with the anchor point at the ankles. Three other victims undoubtedly died of drowning."

Additional evidence to support a bombing was retrieved from the broken up aircraft which lay on the sea bed at a depth of 6,700 feet (2,000 m). The British vessel Guardline Locator, equipped with sophisticated sonar, and the French cable-laying vessel Léon Thévenin, with its robot submarine Scarab, were dispatched to locate the flight data recorder (FDR) and cockpit voice recorder (CVR) boxes. The boxes would be difficult to find and it was imperative that the search commence quickly. By 4 July, the Guardline Locator detected signals on the sea bed. On 9 July, Scarab pinpointed the CVR and raised it to the surface. The next day, the FDR was also located and recovered.

Most official accounts place responsibility for the attack on Sikh extremism.

Monday 22 June 2015

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Unidentified Rohingya human-trafficking victims given proper burial in Malaysia

Malaysian authorities Monday gave a Muslim burial to 21 human trafficking victims, believed to be Rohingya Muslim refugees, found in shallow graves in jungles bordering Thailand.

The 21 were among 106 bodies found last month in 28 jungle camps in northern Perlis state, a remote area bordering Thailand that trafficking syndicates used as a transit point to hold migrants and refugees. Most were believed to be from Myanmar's persecuted Rohingya minority and impoverished migrants from Bangladesh.

The victims were buried in a village ceremony in neighboring Kedah state, with Islamic officials performing burial rites.

Kedah Chief Minister Mukhriz Mahathir said investigations showed the victims died of starvation and illness.

The bodies of 19 men were placed in simple wooden coffins each and buried together in a huge grave, while the bodies of two women were laid to rest in an adjacent grave, he said.

The bodies of the other victims will be buried once autopsies are completed, he said.

The discoveries in northern Malaysia followed similar revelations earlier May in Thailand, where police unearthed 36 bodies from shallow graves in seven abandoned camps on the Thai side of the border.

The discoveries have exposed hidden networks of jungle camps run by human smugglers, who have for years held countless desperate people captive while extorting ransoms from their families. Most of the victims were part of a wave of people who fled their homelands to reach countries like Malaysia, where they hoped to find work or live freely.

Human rights groups and activists say the area along the Thai-Malaysia border has been used for years to smuggle migrants and refugees, including Rohingya Muslims.

In many cases, they pay human smugglers thousands of dollars for passage, but are instead held for weeks or months while traffickers extort more money from their families. Rights groups say some have been beaten to death, and The Associated Press has documented other cases in which people have been enslaved on fishing boats.

Malaysian Deputy Home Minister Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar said at the time that investigations showed the bodies were wrapped in shrouds and their resting places marked with wooden sticks.

He said Malaysian security forces had not been patrolling the area because it was thought to be inaccessible but began surveying it after the discovery of graves in Thailand.

Monday 22 June 2015

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Heatwave kills at least 148 in Karachi, other parts of Pakistan

Nearly 150 people have died from heatstroke in the southern Pakistani port city of Karachi in the last two days, according to officials. Hospital reports confirm at least 148 deaths, said the city’s health director, Zafar Ejaz. According to health officials, many patients complained that they had collapsed suddenly during the day and suffered extreme breathing problem.

The head of the emergency department at Jinnah Hospital in Karachi said the majority of the victims were elderly.

Besides the deaths, scores of patients complaining of dehydration and low blood pressure are also queuing up at hospitals. Scores of people were referred to tertiary care hospitals from private hospitals.

‘Since Saturday 114 people have died in Karachi and eight others [have died] in three districts of Sindh, ’ provincial health secretary Saeed Mangnejo told AFP on Sunday.

In a statement, the Director General of Pakistan Meteorological Department Dr Ghulam Rasool said that this weather pattern will gradually move towards the south and bring moderate rain in Sindh and Balochistan from Tuesday to Friday.

Officials thought the heat wave could break the city’s record-high temperature of 116 degrees Fahrenheit, set in June 1979, according to the Agence France-Presse.

He said that the minimum temperature recorded in Karachi on Saturday was 32 degrees Celsius while humidity – a measure of the amount of moisture in the air – was 45 per cent.

The officials said the city wouldn’t see any let-up on Monday when temperatures are expected to go up to 44 degree Celsius.

In Sibbi, a town in Balochistan Province to the south of the Quetta, one man died and five others fell unconscious when temperatures rose to 49 degrees Celsius.

The heat and subsequent power outages have brought some residents of Karachi to their boiling points. There have been a series of violent protests by people throughout Karachi who feel that the government should do more to help alleviate the suffering and numbers of people dying due to the heat wave.

Social welfare organisation, the Edhi Foundation, said its mortuary had been packed to capacity with heatwave deaths and other casualties, with 150 bodies were placed there.

Early this month, 17 people died because of heatstroke in Sehwan during the Urs of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar.

Monday 22 June 2015

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