Air India 182 Sturla Gunnarsson

Air India 182 Sturla Gunnarsson
On June 22, 1985 an Air India flight departed Montreal bound for Delhi via London. Four hours after take-off and just off the Irish coast, a bomb tore through the baggage compartment and killed all 329 people on board. Until 9/11, this was the deadliest act of air terrorism.

The media have long covered this tragedy but Sturla Gunnarsson’s haunting film tells the story in a fresh, dramatic light. The director covers new angles, most crucially the victims’ families, whose sorrow connects with the audience immediately. Gunnarsson (Gerrie and Louse) also interviews Vancouver airport workers who served the passengers, RAF rescuers who fished the bodies out of the sea and CSIS staff who investigated bomb mastermind Talwinder Singh Parmar, an extremist Sikh based in the Vancouver area.

Regret is everywhere: from the father who had a sixth sense at Vancouver airport but let his family go to the baggage handler who didn’t challenge the security folk over a suspicious suitcase (inside was the bomb), and the CSIS investigator who wishes his superiors never erased the surveillance tapes of Parmer.

Due to a lack of evidence, no conspirator was convicted of the bombing after a 20-year trial. Separately, bomb maker Inderjit Singh Reyat was imprisoned, while Parmer was captured and killed by police in India in 1989.

The film relies heavily on re-enactments to tell the story and builds suspense by starting back in time and marching towards the date of the doomed flight like a Greek tragedy. Archival footage is used sparingly yet wisely. The clip of an RAF rescuer fishing the limp body of a little boy out of the water hits hard.

Air India 182 raises the haunting question: what if the CSIS and RCMP had known ahead of time? What if they had kept those surveillance tapes? More implicitly, what if the bombing happened today? Would Canada be ready? Would we? (CBC-TV)