The doomed Air India Flight 182, which exploded over the Atlantic in 1985, killing all 329 people on board, was allowed to leave Canada before a bomb-sniffing dog could search the plane or its luggage, a government inquiry was told on Wednesday.
The statement by a former police officer was the latest surprising testimony heard by the inquiry and raises further questions about how much Canada knew of threats against the flight, which remains history's deadliest bombing of a civilian airliner.
Serge Carignan, who served with Surete du Quebec, Quebec's provincial police force, also disputed Royal Canadian Mounted Police and Transport Canada documents that said the plane and suspected luggage had been searched in Montreal prior to takeoff.
"I never did search the passenger section of the Air India aircraft before departure," Carignan told the inquiry in Ottawa, adding that Flight 182 had already taken off and the only baggage he examined were three pieces of luggage that had been left behind.
Carignan testified he was called to Montreal's Mirabel Airport on the evening of June 22, 1985, to search an aircraft and baggage, but discovered when he arrived with his dog Arko that the plane had departed.
"I've always wondered why, if I was called to search an airplane and luggage, why did they let the airplane go before I arrived," he said.
The Boeing 747 was destroyed on June 23, 1985, over the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Ireland on a flight from Canada to India via London. Investigators later determined was caused by a suitcase bomb, believed placed on the aircraft by Vancouver-based Sikh militants.
"I believe that we would have found it ... the explosives," Carignan said.
Government claims in question
It was unclear why Carignan had been called to the airport as Canadian officials have long maintained they were unaware of any specific threats to Flight 182, which flew weekly from Canada to India.
That official claim was disputed last week by respected Canadian diplomat James Bartleman, who testified he alerted RCMP to a threat just days before Fight 182 was destroyed.
Bartleman, at that time director general of the Intelligence Analysis and Security Bureau in the Department of External Affairs, said he was told that the Mounties were already aware of the threat and he was coldly dismissed.
Other government officials have since testified they were unaware of the threat, and have suggested Bartleman's memory of events is faulty.
Relatives of the Air India victims demanded this government inquiry into efforts to prevent the bombing and the police search for the bombers, after a court in 2005 cleared two men charged with murder in the case.
Bal Gupta, president of the Air India Victims Families Association, told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. that the recent testimony has been "very frustrating and painful for the families to know."
Carignan admitted surprised that he was never contacted by investigators after the bombing, and said it was his wife who recently contacted the inquiry's staff to say he had possible information