Monday, September 27, 2010

Ted Bowles knows what it's like to tempt fate

Ted Bowles flew aboard a CP Air flight that held in its cargo bay a bomb that exploded shortly after landing in Tokyo. The former RCAF bombardier has had his share of close calls. Deddeda Stemler photograph for The Globe and Mail.

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
September 27, 2010


On June 22, 1985, Ted Bowles checked his bags at the CP Air counter at Vancouver International Airport, a mundane and forgettable experience for a seasoned traveller.

The mining executive faced a long journey — a flight to Japan with a connection to Hong Kong. He was then to continue to a mine north of Guangzhou, formerly Canton, to negotiate the sale of graphite.

Among the hundreds of passengers checked in by clerk Jeanne Bakermans that morning was a man booked on the same flight. L. Singh, as his ticket read, had his bag tagged to be transferred in Tokyo to Bangkok. The connecting flight was operated by Air India.

A terrible plot unleashed that day caused the deadliest mass murder in Canadian history. Two bombs were planted aboard airplanes departing from Vancouver.

One blew up while a plane was over the Atlantic Ocean, killing all 329 aboard.

The other blew up in Tokyo, killing two airport workers.

Inderjit Singh Reyat, of Duncan, remains the only man convicted in the bloody conspiracy, having been found guilty of manslaughter in both attacks.

Last week, he was convicted of perjury in B.C. Supreme Court. He had been accused of lying 19 times in his testimony seven years ago in the trial of two suspects who were acquitted.

The perjury trial is seen as the end of a long and unsatisfactory legal odyssey.

Justice has been in short supply for the grieving relatives of the passengers aboard Air India flight 182.

The components of the bombs were assembled on Vancouver Island. Mr. Reyat, who lived in Duncan, got blasting caps and dynamite sticks from a well driller, as well as a 400-page explosives manual from a contractor, neither of the acquaintances suspecting a deadly plot.

Mr. Reyat bought gunpowder at a local sports shop, electrical relays at Radio Shack, and a stereo tuner at Woolworth’s. Charred fragments of the latter item led police to him.

A quarter-century has passed since Mr. Bowles stepped aboard CP Air 003, a flight that crossed the Pacific Ocean with a bomb in its cargo bay.

Mr. Bowles was in the terminal at sprawling Narita International Airport when the bomb exploded, killing baggage handlers Hideo Asano and Hideharu Koda. Four others were seriously injured.

It is not known whether the bag with the bomb was dropped. It could have exploded prematurely. Or, in what gives Mr. Bowles chills, it was timed to explode while his plane was in the air.

His fight arrived in Tokyo 14 minutes ahead of schedule.

“Lady luck,” he said. “We would have been a statistic also.”

Mr. Bowles knows what it is like to tempt fate.

He enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force as a young man, survived 33 raids over Germany in the Second World War.

A flying officer with No. 429 Squadron, he served as bombardier aboard a Halifax bomber on attacks against industrial targets at Essen, Hamburg and Cologne.

Once, the bomber was attacked by German night fighters, survival depending on the nerves of the mid-upper and rear gunners. The bombardier watched with relief as two of the German aircraft were sent down in flames.

There was one other close call.

“We ditched in the ocean once,” he said. “North Sea. Off Aberdeen. We were rescued by a Scottish trawler.”

He returned to Canada with a war bride named Joan.

Now retired and living in Victoria, Mr. Bowles recently wrote a letter to the editor to correct an error in a newspaper account of what happened that summer day 25 years ago. The bomb in Narita had not been planted there, he wrote. It was intended to kill passengers in the air, either on his flight, or on a connecting one.

He continued on his journey after sniffer dogs examined the remaining luggage, which was spread out in the shadow of a 747 jumbo jet.

Only on his arrival did he learn of the fate of the Air India flight in the waters off Ireland.

The knowledge of having ferried a bomb across an ocean left him feeling “kind of queasy, kind of funny.”

“It could have been a double disaster. It could have been our plane, as well.”

Mr. Bowles thinks often of the dead passengers and of the brave vigil observed by their grieving families. He knows he and his wife narrowly escaped such a fate.

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