Paris: The discovery of a diplomatic bag from an Air India plane that crashed in the French Alps 46 years ago does not spell hope that any more bodies will be found, a climber who has found debris and human remains from the doomed craft said on Tuesday.
Daniel Roche said the January 24, 1966, crash that killed 117 people including the pioneer of India’s nuclear programme Homi Jehangir Bhabha thereby fuelling conspiracy theories, was more likely an accident.
“I have recovered six to seven tonnes of debris, jewellery, documents and money since I began climbing Mont Blanc eight years ago on the French and Italian sides, said the 60-year-old property consultant based in Lyon.
“The human remains include skulls, pieces from the thigh and other body parts, teeth and hair,” he told AFP in a telephone interview.
“Only six bodies have been found in 46 years, including that of the co-pilot strapped to his seat,” said Roche who has painstakingly documented search operations and finds linked to the crash.
“When you think that searches have been conducted for nearly half a century, the chances of finding any more corpses are next to zero.”
India on Monday took possession of a bag of the diplomatic mail from the Kangchenjunga, a Boeing 707 flying from Mumbai (Bombay) to New York, which crashed on the south-west face of Mont Blanc, western Europe’s highest mountain, as it descended towards a scheduled stopover in Geneva, Switzerland.
The jute bag, stamped “Diplomatic mail” and “Ministry of External Affairs”, was recovered by mountain rescue worker Arnaud Christmann and his neighbour Jules Berger on August 21 close to where the plane crashed.
The diplomatic mail essentially comprises old newspapers with “historic” value, said Satwant Khanalia, a second secretary at the Indian embassy in Paris, who took possession of the documents adding that the bag “has made a long journey”.
Roche said the human remains he had found from the Kanchenjunga were “more or less smashed to bits,” adding that the crash was probably an accident and not due to pilot error.
“The captain J.T. D’Souza, was one of the most experienced pilots of his time,” said Roche, who has also found the remains of another Air India plane, the Malabar Princess which also crashed into Mont Blanc in 1950.
“He had flown personalities like Jackie Kennedy and the pope,” he said. The US former first lady had visited India and Pakistan in 1962.
The crash, given Bhabha’s presence on board, led to conspiracy theories about the possible involvement of India’s arch-rival Pakistan and the CIA. India was a staunch ally of the Soviet Union during the Cold War.
Roche agrees that this was a “very, very tense time” as India had fought a second war with Pakistan the previous year but said the debris of a fighter jet he found near the site that disappeared around the same time in Mont Blanc led him to believe it was a crash.
“It was marked US Air Force,” he said. “It was a Lockheed F-104 Starfighter which lost radio contact at about the same time. I found its parts on the Italian side of the Alps.”