A memorial for victims of 1950, 1966 AI crashes in Alps

A memorial for victims of 1950, 1966 AI crashes in Alps

PM to inaugurate monument for Homi Bhabha and others killed in Air India crashes in Mont Blanc

Homi J Bhabha was among those who perished when two Air India aircraft crashed on Mont Blanc mountain in 1950 and 1966. (AFP File Photo)

The Nid d'Aigle (or Eagle's Nest) is well known as the last station on the tramway that takes tourists to the foothills of the Mont Blanc mountain in France.

It is where the mountaineers start their ascent for the icy heights of Alps.

The tiny picturesque village at an altitude of 2,362 metres will now also be known for a monument dedicated to father of India's nuclear programme Homi Jehangir Bhabha and several other Indian, who were among the passengers and crew of the two ill-fated Air India aircraft that crashed on Mont Blanc mountain in 1950 and 1966.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi will inaugurate the memorial on Friday, T S Tirumurti, Secretary (Economic Relations) at the Ministry of External Affairs, said in New Delhi.

Modi will reach Paris on Thursday for an official visit to France.

He will address Indian living in Western European country at the headquarters of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in Paris on Friday – just before remotely inaugurating the memorial at Nid d'Aigle.

The ‘Malabar Princess’ — a Lockheed L-749A aircraft of Air India — crashed into Rocher de la Tournette on Mont Blanc mountain on November 3, 1950, while flying as AI 245 on the Bombay-Istanbul-Geneva-London route. It had 40 passengers and eight crew members on board and all of them perished on the icy summit ridge of the mountain.

The ‘Kanchenjunga’, another Air India Boeing 707 aircraft, suffered the same fate nearly 16 years later on January 24, 1966. The aircraft flying as AI 101 from Bombay to London crashed into Bossons Glacier on the south-west face of Mont Blanc — not very far from where the ‘Malabar Princess’ had met its end. It had 11 members of crew and 106 passengers. None survived.

Bhabha was one of the ill-fated passengers of the ‘Kanchenjunga’.

The memorial Prime Minister will inaugurate has been designed by Bossonet Marbrerie, a well-known architectural firm of France. It looks like a cairn with each of the balanced stones representing “perfectly aligned thought and intention of the people” of India and France to remember the victims of the two air crashes, said a source aware of the design of the monument, adding that the architects chose to make it look like a cairn, which speaks for natural desire for people in mountain to stand up and support one another, irrespective of their nationalities, particularly in times of need and emergencies.

The mortal remains of the crew and passengers the two Air India aircraft could never be recovered from the snow-covered mountain heights. The wreckages remained at the crash sites.

Daniel Roche, who spent years looking for wreckages of the aircraft in Mont Blanc, had in July 2017 found human body parts – a hand and the upper part of a leg – in Bossons Glacier, near the site where the AI 101 crashed in 1966. He also found parts of one of the four engines of the aircraft. Earlier, a box containing rubies, emeralds and sapphires were found near the crash site in September 2013 and a camera in June 2014.

When a jute sack – with “Indian Government Services – Diplomatic Mail – Ministry of External Affairs” – printed on it recovered in Bossons Glacier in August 2012, the top brass of the Government of India were anxious as it could have contained sensitive communications, which – if leaked – might have had repercussions on New Delhi's foreign engagements. They were, however, relieved, after it was found that the diplomatic bag was marked ‘C’ – not ‘A’ or ‘B’ which denote “classified” and “official communications” categories respectively. The sack was later brought to New Delhi and when the MEA officials opened it, they were relieved to find that it contained just newspapers of the third week of January 1966, some magazines, and Indian Airlines’ calendar for that year. Those were the days when world was still far away from advent of Internet and South Block used to courier newspapers and magazines to missions abroad in diplomatic bags.  

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