Monday, June 25, 2012

Doomed Flight 182 and Us   

An anxious morning at an airport remembered.
© 22 June 2011     by Victor Sullivan    

I have never had a problem with early morning rising. I enjoy driving along almost empty roads, beating the rush hour traffic while listening to the business chat-shows and news reports on the car radio. On the morning of 23rd June, 1985, I was on the road to Shannon Airport, accompanied by my wife, to meet our daughter who was returning on an early morning flight from a visit to America. It was a beautifully clear morning and the Irish countryside through we drove was lush and green. A few miles ahead a 747 rose majestically from the scenery and climbed into the clear blue sky. We were almost at the Airport and with thirty minutes to spare before Carol's scheduled arrival there would be ample time to relax with a cup of coffee. 
Hopefully she would arrive on time and we could head for home without delay.

The radio chat-show was unexpectedly interrupted by a newsflash, something about an aircraft  missing over the Atlantic. We drove into Shannon Airport's precincts, then, as we entered the car parking area the morning chat-show was again interrupted by the News-room:
'A commercial aircraft is reported to have disappeared from the radar screens without warning while over the Atlantic...'

Suddenly the situation hit us, hard. Our only daughter was in a commercial aircraft somewhere over the Atlantic!

Of course we did not believe that the impossible might have happened. That sort of thing doesn't happen to people like us, does it? Where can we get...?  Where...? Think! Arrivals; YES. There must be a list of any planes delayed.  We have no memory of the tedious matter of parking, locking the car doors or locating an Arrivals Display. What was Carol's Flight Number? Neither of us could remember. All the flights due within the next hour or two appeared to be on time. None delayed. But when was this list last updated? A 747 touched down outside and we waited anxiously for the Arrivals board to change. It did. Still no delays. The next one should be Carol's plane. We stood, holding sweaty hands, staring at the spot in the sky where we expected to see the approaching aircraft appear.  The scheduled arrival time passed according to my watch. Our hands gripped more tightly. One entire, very long minute late already! 'Here it comes!' It touches down gently and taxis towards the Terminal building. Time to join the welcoming gang outside the Customs Hall.  

'Carol!'  Hugs! Kisses! 'Mum!' 'Dad!' Tears, 'What's the matter? I've only been away for two weeks?' 
'Tell you in the car.'
Baggage trolley to car-park, forgot about coffee, barrier up and we are away on the open road towards home, rushing to get away from something unthinkable that hadn't happened to us. 

The car radio frequently interrupted its scheduled programmes and we were kept well informed about the unfolding horror story. It came as no surprise to find helicopters thundering overhead on arriving at our home in Cork. The aircraft that had vanished from the radar screens without warning at 07:14 GMT when approximately 100 miles off the south west coast of Ireland, was an Air India passenger aircraft, Flight No.182, en route from Canada to India. A terrorist bomb had blasted it apart in mid air at 31,000 feet, killing every one of the 329 people on board while we were driving through the peaceful, green Irish countryside from our home in Cork towards Shannon Airport. Our daughter had been in another east-bound aircraft, a few hundred miles away, at the fatal moment.

A huge Search and Recovery operation involving ships and aircraft located many bodies and body-parts and  transferred them to the Cork Regional Hospital, (now Cork University Hospital), where a team of doctors and nurses successfully identified the recovered victims and sent their coffins to their families in India, Canada and America. Sixty victims were children under the age of 10.

But many bodies were never recovered, a matter of great concern and distress to their relatives. Frank Donaldson, a friend of the author, proposed that an appropriate Monument should be erected as near as practical to the spot in the ocean where Fight 182 was destroyed. He identified a suitable location at Ahakista, near the village of Durrus, on the edge of Dunmanus Bay. The monument suggestion received unanimous support and sculptor Ken Thompson created a huge sundial, cleverly aligned so that the sun annually indicates the precise moment of the explosion in the baggage-hold of the doomed aircraft. 

The unveiling of the Sundial was carried out in complete secrecy at the request of the families of the victims.The news media were successfully outwitted. Many family members from India, Canada and elsewhere congregated at this unique monument and conducted a solemn unveiling ceremony that included the placing of wreaths on the sea. Appropriately on that moving occasion wind and tide combined to take the many wreaths out into Dunmanus Bay and westwards towards the spot in the Atlantic Ocean where Flight 182 ended. 

© Victor Sullivan

A Memorial Ceremony takes place annually at the Sundial on 23rd June.

A magnificient example of Indian artwork was presented to the Hospital, a token of gratitude for not only the grim work but also for the comfort and support given to the grieving relatives.

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