Did The U.S. Blow Up Air India 101 From Mumbai To London?

Air India Flight 101 from Mumbai to London Heathrow flew into France’s Mont Blanc on January 24, 1966. The prevailing theory of the crash is that one of the plane’s receivers malfunctioned and a pilot misunderstood air traffic control instructions. The Boeing 707 went down in the same spot as Air India Flight 245 sixteen years earlier.

The flight had traveled Mumbai – Delhi – Beirut and was enroute to Geneva prior to traveling to its final destination. It was descending through 19,000 feet and flew into the highest mountain in the Alps at an altitude of 15,584 feet. Everyone on board was killed.

No black box was ever recovered, and it’s been suggested that – in fact – the 707 suffered a rapid decompression resulting from an explosion in the cargo hold. The former deputy head of CIA operations, assistant director for clandestine operations Robert Crowley, confessed to this being what happened as part of an agency operation to scuttle India’s nuclear weapons program.

The confession was published in a 2013 book, Conversations With The Crow after the death of the CIA’s Robert Crowley, based on interviews from twenty years earlier. The book says that Crowley admits the agency assassinated Indian nuclear scientist Homi Bhabha, who was a passenger on the flight, and that the agency also assassinated Indian Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri two weeks earlier.

We had trouble, you know, with India back in the 60s when they got uppity and started work on an atomic bomb…The thing is, they were getting into bed with the Russians….And we did not want them to have any kind of nuclear weaponry because God knows what they would have done with it…Probably nuke the Pakis… Oh, yes, and their head expert was fully capable of building a bomb…Name was Homi Bhabha. He was flying to Vienna to stir up more trouble, when his 707 had a bomb go off in the cargo hold and they all came down on a high mountain way up in the Alps.

…We could have blown it up over Vienna but we decided the high mountains were miuch better for the bits and pieces to come down on. .. And we nailed Shastri as well.

I hadn’t heard this story before, and don’t have a sense for whether the then-69 year old clandestine services veteran would have been telling the truth about a 27 year old operation. However there are certainly instances where governments have brought down civilian airliners – even the U.S. government.

In 1988 the U.S. accidentally shot down a civilian airliner, Iran Air 655. In 2020 Iran accidentally shot down Ukraine International Airlines flight PS752. Most famous perhaps are Korean Air Lines flight 007 and Malaysia Airlines 17.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. If true that the bomb went off at altitude, the timing was rather suspiciously impeccable- down to the second … as the debris was quite precisely on the particular mountain. Seems a bit much to believe frankly.

  2. I just read the interview that Douglas did with Crowley. I, clearly don’t know the facts, but Crowley’s seeming indifference to the deaths of the passengers made me wonder about his credibility. Interestingly, I came across some things by Indians wondering why their government which, at the time of the publication wasn’t particularly pro-US never launched an investigation if they believed the story was even possibly credible.

  3. I certainly believe it’s possible that the USG might assassinate a foreign country’s nuclear scientist (we’ve clearly been involved in those efforts in other cases), and if there were some “eggs broken” along the way, they might not lose that much sleep over it.

    That said, this “evidence” seems very flimsy, and could just as easily have been a chapter out of a Len Deighton novel.

  4. Seems like a really long shot to me. Same place as another accident and the wreckage landed in the same general area? Seems to me that would be the last thing any clandestine operator would do. All that does is raise suspicions that encourage attention.

    Nah, this sounds like random chance to me. I’d be looking at the navaids in the area, the specific 707 derivative, and the airline’s maintenance program long before I’d believe someone who was selling a book about it that he would profit from handsomely if it became a bestseller.

    I expect the conspiracy theorists will be posting here shortly.

  5. So posting straight-up baseless conspiracy theories now Gary?

    Really trying as hard as you can to find the bottom of the barrel huh?

    The “thought leadership” is just overwhelming.

  6. Perhaps it is true. I certainly wouldn’t put it past them. In 1964 Truman published–over CIA objections–an article on how the agency had become something that he never wanted it to be. And we’re still dealing with the effects of their overthrowing the legitimate government of Iran in 1953 and Guatemala in 1954, among numerous other shenanigans. But the one aircraft crash which really deserves an answer is Dag Hammarskjold’s loss in 1961. Maybe it was an accident, maybe the Belgians/South Africans did it. Maybe somebody else.

  7. Despite the fact that CIA has long stood for Corrupt International Actors, the far more plausible explanation is that dozens of commercial flights have plowed into mountains and the technology that exists today didn’t exist years ago and AI repeated the same mistake because they didn’t learn.

  8. If this sort of fantastical nonsense qualifies for inclusion here, I look forward to future coverage of deathbed confessions re: captured space aliens and the hollow earth theory.

  9. As a naturalized American, I’ve seen many instances where American government have been inconsistent with their policy rhetoric and actions. I just want to point out one issue, Iran Policy. I’d ask all who are frustrated with Middle-East issues, read up on Operation Ajax conducted by CIA and MI6. In US/ UK defense, at least no military operations were conducted. “We” merely financially supported to destabilize the “democracy” in Iran to strength the Shah Monarchy. Do you think we supported “democracy” in this instance? All in the name of what? OIL, lookup Anglo-Iranian Oil Corp! The former name of BP. No wonder Middle-East are very suspicious of us in meddling their affairs? Uncle Sam has done bad things as an institution, but also good things. It’s like LAPD and NYPD. Just because of bad incidents and some bad cops, do you call “Stop funding the police”, like some not so clear headed groups?”

  10. Got me to click. I’m beginning to wonder why I do.

    “Conversations With The Crow” was written by “Gregory Douglas”, which is a pseudonym. So you have supposedly secret conversations published posthumously by a secret author. Which should instantly raise red flags. A search for the book and who the author is rapidly gets weird. Not to mention the fact that a bomb on-board a plane leaves traces and is an extremely sloppy way to kill a specific target. You don’t need the black box to solve a bombing. Which is why you would dump the evidence in a body of water, not across a mountain, and there is plenty of water between Beirut and Geneva. If you can time a bomb to hit a specific mountain, and good luck doing that, you can time it to hit a much easier to hit Adriatic or Mediterranean Sea.

  11. In my view this has absolutely nothing to do with the proper subject of a travel blog — it’s just rumor about a crash well over 50 years ago. You can draw your own conclusion why a blogger, who wants people to click through to his site, would post it. Me, I’ll discontinue my subscription to this newsletter because I don’t like it. I’m sure Mr. Leff won’t care, but I’ll feel better.

  12. Did anybody actually read those book pages? They guy is not only a major racist but seems to be a sociopath as well. Absolutely no respect for human lives. With people like him in charge, they could have easily done this.

  13. @Eric

    Oh the drama!

    It’s his blog and he can do what he wants. All you have to do is leave, no one cares. Start your own blog if you need that much attention.

  14. Betteridge’s Law: Thought Leadership Edition

    “Any headline that ends in a question mark can be answered by the word no.”

    If Gary was confident that the answer was yes, he would have presented it as an assertion; by presenting it as a question, he is not accountable for whether it is correct or not.

  15. I knew someone very close to PM Shastri — he may have even been on Shastri’s last trip to Soviet Central Asia — and there was never any indication given to me that he or Indira Gandhi believed any Indian PM was or were going to be CIA assassination targets. They were more concerned about Pakistani games even as they were not beyond joking about there being a CIA man behind every tree. [Some of the Indians who joked about that (while perhaps sort of believing something like that but to a lesser extent) were offered bribes by the CIA.]

  16. @Ex-UA Plat – I say explicitly I am not confident the answer is yes, I found the claim interesting but am not deep into the details and history of the investigation.

  17. Given the claim about the CIA assassinating Shastri (by poison) never even got traction from the Soviets/KGB, I’m inclined to put Crowley’s claim about the cause of Shastri’s death in Tashkent as one of misdirection. Another conspiracy theory that had made the round about Shastri’s death was that Kashmiri Pandit TN Kaul — then Indian ambassador to the Soviet Union — had an interest in seeing fellow Kashmiri Pandit Indira Gandhi become PM and thus had his Muslim cook off Shastri. Ludicrous too, as there was no guarantee that Indira Gandhi would become the next (non-interim) PM (and avoid a criminal inquiry were such a preposterous criminal conspiracy to be pursued against Shastri).

    For what it’s worth, several years later TN Kaul would become PM Indira Gandhi’s ambassador to the US, that too during the part of Indira Gandhi’s premiership leading up to her implementation of “emergency rule”.

  18. An extraordinary claim needs extraordinary proof.
    A journalist, that wants to create a buzz to hopefully sell millions of books, relates an old interview of the CIA chief, that is an expert in manipulation and disinformation, about an event even older, and all that without any type of proof whatsoever.
    This is not investigative journalism, which will require irrefutable proof. This is just sensationalism to sell books.

  19. The “confession” from the book was written by Gregory Douglas a conspiracy theorist and Holocaust denier. Douglas’ only evidence is “trust me, I had a secret interview with the CIA guy and he told me. No I didn’t record it or take notes during the interview but just trust me.” Evidently people did, I don’t even think this article mentions Douglas as the author.

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