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Air India Flight 300
Lockheed L-749A VT-DEO AII LAP 08.06.53 edited-2.jpg
A Lockheed Constellation similar to the incident aircraft
Bombing
DateApril 11, 1955 (1955-04-11)
SummaryBombing
Siteoff the Natuna Islands, Indonesia
Aircraft
Aircraft typeLockheed L-749A Constellation
Aircraft nameKashmir Princess
OperatorAir India
RegistrationVT-DEP
Flight originSanta Cruz Airport, Bombay, India
StopoverKai Tak Airport, Hong Kong
DestinationKemayoran Airport, Jakarta, Indonesia
Passengers11
Crew8
Fatalities16
Injuries3
Survivors3

The Kashmir Princess, or Air India Flight 300,[1] was a chartered Lockheed L-749A Constellation flight owned by Air India. On 11 April 1955, it was damaged in midair by a bomb explosion and crashed into the South China Sea while en route from Bombay, India, and Hong Kong to Jakarta, Indonesia.[2] Sixteen of those on board were killed, while three survived.[3] The explosion was an assassination attempt targeting Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai,[4] who missed the flight due to a medical emergency and was not on board. The Chinese government concluded that the Kuomintang (KMT) were responsible for the bombing.[5]

Explosion

Flight 300 departed Hong Kong at 04:25 GMT carrying Chinese and Eastern European delegates, mainly journalists, to the Afro-Asian Bandung Conference in Jakarta.[3] At approximately 0925 GMT the crew heard an explosion; smoke quickly entered the cabin from a fire on the right wing directly behind the No. 3 (or right inboard) engine. Upon hearing the explosion and seeing the fire-warning light for the baggage compartment come on, the captain shut off the No. 3 engine and feathered its propeller, fearing the engine would catch fire. This left three engines running. The crew sent out three distress signals giving their position over the Natuna Islands before the radio went dead.[2]

The captain tried to land the plane on the sea, but the depressurising cabin and the failing circuits made that impossible. Additionally, smoke was seeping into the cockpit. Left with no other option, the crew issued life jackets and opened the emergency doors to ensure a quick escape as the plane plunged into the sea below.

Crash

The starboard wing struck water first, tearing the plane into three parts. The aircraft maintenance engineer (ground engineer), navigator and first officer escaped and were later found by the Indonesian Coast Guard. The remaining 16 passengers and crew members, however, drowned at sea.[6]

Investigators believed that the explosion had been caused by a time bomb placed aboard the aircraft by a Kuomintang secret agent who was attempting to assassinate Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai, who had been scheduled to board the plane to attend the conference but had changed his travel plans at the last minute.[3]

Zhou Enlai

The target of the assassination attempt, Zhou Enlai, had planned to fly from Beijing to Hong Kong and then on to Jakarta on Kashmir Princess. An emergency appendectomy delayed his arrival in Hong Kong;[7] he left China three days after the crash and flew to Rangoon to meet with Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and Burmese Prime Minister U Nu before continuing on to Bandung to attend the conference.[3]

Some historians have argued that Zhou may have known about the assassination plot beforehand and that the premier did not undergo an appendectomy at the time. Steve Tsang of Oxford University wrote in the September 1994 edition of The China Quarterly, "Evidence now suggests that Zhou knew of the plot beforehand and secretly changed his travel plans, though he did not stop a decoy delegation of lesser cadres from taking his place."[5]

Investigation

The day after the crash, China's Foreign Ministry issued a statement that described the bombing as "a murder by the special service organizations of the United States and Chiang Kai-shek",[8] while Hong Kong Governor Sir Alexander Grantham maintained that the plane was not tampered with in Hong Kong. However, on 26 May, an Indonesian board of inquiry later announced that a time bomb with an American-made MK-7 detonator was responsible for the crash and it was highly probable that the bomb was placed on the plane in Hong Kong.[citation needed]

The Hong Kong authorities offered HK$100,000 for information leading to the arrest of those responsible. They questioned 71 people connected with the servicing of the Air India flight. When police began to focus on Chow Tse-ming, a janitor for Hong Kong Aircraft Engineering Co., he stowed away to Taiwan on a CIA-owned Civil Air Transport aircraft. The Hong Kong police reported that a warrant charging a murder conspiracy was issued, but the man with the name Chow Tse-ming in the warrant had flown to Taiwan on 18 May 1955, and Chow Tse-ming had three aliases.[9]

The Hong Kong police concluded that the Kuomintang had recruited Chow to plant the bomb to kill Zhou Enlai. Apparently, he had bragged to friends about his role in the bombing, and had also spent large amounts of money before he left Hong Kong. The Hong Kong Police tried to extradite Chow, but Taiwan refused and denied that Chow was a KMT agent.[citation needed]

Steve Tsang collected evidence from British, Taiwanese, American and Hong Kong archives that points directly to KMT agents operating in Hong Kong as the perpetrators of the aircraft bombing. According to him, the KMT had a special-operations group stationed in Hong Kong responsible for assassination and sabotage. Designated the Hong Kong Group under Major-General Kong Hoi-ping, it operated a network of 90 agents. In March 1955, the group recruited Chow for the assassination because his job at the airport gave him easy access to the Air India plane, and offered him HK$600,000 and refuge in Taiwan, if necessary.[citation needed]

A Chinese Foreign Ministry document declassified in 2004 also indicates that the KMT secret service was responsible for the bombing.[10]

China had from the outset accused the United States of involvement in the bombing, but while the CIA had considered a plan to assassinate Zhou Enlai at this time,[11] the Church Committee reported that these plans were disapproved of and "strongly censured" by Washington.[12] In a 1971 face-to-face meeting in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Zhou directly asked Henry Kissinger about US involvement in the bombing. Kissinger responded, "As I told the Prime Minister the last time, he vastly overestimates the competence of the CIA."[13]

Commemorations

Captain D.K. Jatar and stewardess Gloria Eva Berry, were posthumously awarded the Ashoka Chakra Award for "most conspicuous bravery, daring and self-sacrifice". The same award was later given to the survivors of the incident: First officer M.C Dixit, ground maintenance engineer Anant Karnik, and navigator J.C. Pathak. Together, they were the first civilians to be awarded the Ashoka Chakra Award for outstanding bravery, and Berry was the first woman to ever receive the award.[citation needed]

In 2005, the Xinhua News Agency hosted a symposium to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the crash; three Xinhua journalists had been among the victims.[14]


See also

References

  1. ^ "Target Zhou Enlai: The "Kashmir Princess' Incident of 1955". jstor.org. Retrieved 23 November 2021.
  2. ^ a b "Accident description". Aviation Safety. Retrieved 18 June 2009.
  3. ^ a b c d "China spills Zhou Enlai secret". China Daily. 21 July 2004. Retrieved 18 June 2009.
  4. ^ "Déjà vu from 30,000 ft". The Times of India. 4 January 2015.
  5. ^ a b Tsang, Steve (September 1994). "Target Zhou Enlai: The 'Kashmir Princess' Incident of 1955". China Quarterly. 139 (139): 766–782. doi:10.1017/S0305741000043150. JSTOR 655141. Retrieved 8 September 2021.
  6. ^ Mendis, Sean (26 July 2004). "Air India : The story of the aircraft". Airwhiners.net. Retrieved 13 June 2013.
  7. ^ Mayumi Itoh (13 July 2017). The Making of China's Peace with Japan: What Xi Jinping Should Learn from Zhou Enlai. Springer. p. 37. ISBN 978-981-10-4008-5.
  8. ^ Steve Tsang, The Cold War's Odd Couple: The Unintended Partnership Between the Republic of China and the UK (New York: IB Tauris, 2006), 181.
  9. ^ "Police Seek Chinese in Crash Case" from Daytona Beach Morning Journal, 3 September 1955
  10. ^ "外交部揭密"克什米尔公主号"周总理座机被炸案(图)". 新华网. 京华时报. 20 July 2004. Retrieved 27 March 2019.
  11. ^ Minnick, Wendell L. "Target: Zhou Enlai", Far Eastern Economic Review, 1995-07-13, pages 54–55.
  12. ^ Arthur M. Schlesinger, Robert Kennedy and His Times (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1978), 517.
  13. ^ Memorandum of conversation (Henry Kissinger, Zhou Enlai, and staff), Foreign, vol. Relations of the United States, 1969–1976, Volume E-13, Documents on China, 1969–1972, United States Department of State, 21 October 1971
  14. ^ "China marks journalists killed in premier murder plot 50 years ago". Wayback Machine. Xinhua Net. 11 April 2004. Archived from the original on 19 April 2005. Retrieved 13 December 2021.