NEW DELHI, Sept 19 – A diplomatic bag lost in the tragic air crash of January 24, 1966 that killed his father Ramesh Chandra Barooah in the Alps, was brought back home by his son Chandan R Barooah 46 years later.
On Tuesday, briefing newsmen, official spokesman of Ministry of External Affairs said that January 24, 1966 was a sad day in Indian history. That was when the Kanchenjunga crashed in the Alps. There was this much talked-about diplomatic bag which was on that flight.
It was a C category bag, which means that it had largely publications and newspapers. And to the credit of the newspapers of that period, they all survived. The newspapers have survived for more than 40 years in the snow at a height of 1830 metres on Mont Blanc.
What was left unsaid was that the bag was brought home by a son of the flight engineer of the ill-fated Air India Flight 101, a scheduled flight from Mumbai to New York and was operated by Boeing 707 and named Kanchenjunga. India’s top nuclear scientist Homi J Bhabha was among the 117 passengers who perished in the crash.
Ramesh Barooah, who died in the crash, hailed from Guwahati and was a Ranji Trophy player. Gauhati Town Club hosts an annual cricket tournament Ramesh Barooah Trophy in his memory. He had left behind his wife and two sons. One of the sons, who works with Air India, incidentally was on the same flight that brought back the bag recently.
The curious turn of destiny in fact took him by surprise when the bag was handed over to him at Paris by officials of the Indian Embassy.
The jute bag, weighing about nine kg and stamped “On India Government Service”, “Diplomatic Mail” and “Ministry of External Affairs”, was recovered by a mountain rescue worker on August 21 on Mont Blanc.
Satwant Khanalia, an official with India’s Embassy in Paris, took possession of the bag from the authorities at Chamonix town in the mountain base on September 4 and its contents were finally revealed to the media here.
Tucked inside the ‘Type C’ diplomatic bag were the papers of Hindustan Times, The Hindu and The Statesman dated January 22 and January 17 respectively of the year 1966.
Along with it were calendars of 1966 and a personal letter of C J K Menon (the then Indian Consulate General posted in New York). Interestingly, the plane crash took place on January 24, which means that the mission staff in Vienna, where the bag was destined to, was still waiting for their official calendars.
The ill-fated flight from Mumbai had made two scheduled stops at Delhi and Beirut and was en route to another stop at Geneva, before it crashed.
Bits of wreckage of the crashed Boeing still remain at the crash site. In 2008, a climber found some Indian newspapers dated January 23, 1966. On August 30, 2012, another jute bag of diplomatic mail, stamped “Indian Government, Diplomatic Mail, Ministry of External Affairs” was recovered by a mountain rescue worker, Arnaud Christmann and turned over to local police in Chamonix.