On the 23rd June 1985 Air India Flight 182 set off on its journey from Montreal, Canada to New Delhi, India via Heathrow, London. On board were 329 people: 268 Canadians, 27 Britons and 24 Indians. Many of the 307 passengers aboard the 747 were families, returning home for the school holidays - 82 were children, including six babies were on board. Shortly after 7am GMT the plane entered Irish air space and the pilot conversed with Air Traffic Control at Shannon airport as it started its descent into Heathrow. At 7.14 GMT the plane vanished off the radar. Quarter of an hour later an emergency was declared and emergency services were deployed. The wreckage of the plane was found at 9.13am. It had completely disintegrated and there were no survivors. Sikh Extremists were blamed though no organisation has ever claimed responsibility and no-one has ever been held accountable for the disaster. The Canadian Government was severely critised for handling what remains the worst aviation disaster in its history. A second Air India jet had also been targeted on the same day, but the bomb had detonated in Narita airport,Tokyo, killing two baggage handlers.
131 Bodies were eventually recovered and were taken to Cork Regional Hospital. A memorial garden was dedicated to the victims in Ahakista. The site was carefully chosen for its proximity to water - an important element in the Hindu religion, especially regarding mourning. The whole area was landscaped by sculptor Ken Thompson as a place where the bereaved would fine solace. A path, immaculately maintained, brings you down to an open flagstoned area with a circular sundial in the centre, behind it a curved wall embraces the space. On the wall are inscribed in bronze two lists of names: one contains the names of the 22 crew members in order of rank; the other lists the names of all 307 passengers in alphabetical order. A memorial stone in English, French and Hindi reads: Remember those who died , Air India 23 VI 1985. The sundial is made from Kilkenny limestone and represents the wheel of life. It contains a nodus cut on the gnomon which throws a shadow on a carefully calculated line that run across the dial - the centre of declination. On the 23rd June each year the shadow falls on this line at 8.13 local time, the time of the tragedy. Around the edge of the sundial is carved:
And shadows fall
let it pass by
love reigns forever
The garden was formally opened on 23rd June 1986 and since then there has been an annual service held here to remember those that died. Dignitaries from Canada, Ireland and India attend, as do many local people and families of the dead. It is an incredibly moving event.
This garden, tended by Cork County Council, is a most beautiful place. A small flower lined path takes you down towards the sea and opens up into a circle, dominated by the elegantly designed sun dial. It's what's on the wall though that is most moving. The name of every person who lost their life on that horrendous day is carved onto a simple bronze background: 22 crew members and 307 passengers. It makes desperate reading for many of those on board were family groups - mother, father and children wiped out and thousands of lives changed. Sadder still, for a few days before and after the annual memorial service, the photographs of those who were aboard Flight 182 are displayed, beautifully adorned with flowers in the Irish and Indian colours. These are heart-breaking to see, the faces behind the names. The names, ages and occupations are revealed. So many were children. The photographs are illuminated at night giving a quiet and haunting presence to an already emotional place. The annual service is held at the time the disaster occurred. I have been several times and it is an occasion of huge sadness, dignity and love. Councillors and ambassadors are present, and on the occasion of the 25th anniversary, the President Mary McAleese also attended, but the majority who come to this usually windswept spot on an early morning in June are local people and family members of those who died, still heart broken, still angry that no justice has been done. One family have visited every year since the disaster. They lost their two young sons, aged 12 and 15, who were travelling unaccompanied back to India to see their grandparents - the first time since their recent move to Canada. Their grief and anger is still raw. Just one story amongst 329.
This is a very special place. Somewhere for quiet contemplation and peace at any time of year, somewhere to reflect on the horrors man is capable of yet also the compassion. The people of Ahakista have welcomed the families of the bereaved into their hearts and homes, and have provided an area of peace and solace, somewhere that seems to provide a real connection and place of hope for many.