Six decades back, a chartered Air-India plane named Kashmir Princess crashed into the South China Sea after a mid-air bomb explosion, killing 16 people on board. On the night of April 11, 1955, the Kashmir Princess was carrying a delegation of Chinese and and three journalists from Austria, Poland and North Vietnam. They were flying from Hong Kong to Indonesia to attend the Afro-Asian Conference in Bandung.
After 80 minutes into the air, at 18,000 feet, a time bomb exploded in the wheel bay of the starboard wing, blowing a hole in the fuel tank. The crew heard the explosion, and as the fire moved up to the wing, they panicked. The captain killed the right inboard engine, fearing it would catch fire. The crew sent out three distress signals.
Before the radio failed, the Jakarta control tower asked if Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai was on board. Sadly for the onboard people ─ Zhou, the first Premier of China ─ was the very reason their plane was bombed.
The Kashmir Princess was barely 60 minutes away from Jakarta, when Captain DK Jatar decided to dive the plane into sea. The crew handed life jackets to all, and even opened the emergency doors to ensure a quick escape. But the landing didn’t go smooth, as it was planned.
The starboard wing struck the water first, and the plane disintegrated into three parts. Barring the flight engineer, navigator and first officer, the 16 passengers and the crew members perished.
Soon after the incident, rumours of CIA and KMT (Chinese Nationalist Party) involvement started to crop up. A day after the crash, the Chinese foreign ministry described the bombing as “a murder by the CIA and Chiang Kai-shek, the head of the KMT government”.
The CIA’s covert war with China was in full swing during the 1950s. The CIA propped up various front companies to keep an eye on growing Communist in Asia. The Asia Foundation, Civil Air Transport (later renamed Air America) and the China Quarterly were all covers for the CIA.Amaerica considered the Afro-Asian Conference in Bandung as a Communists get-together, and that China would use the event to leverage its image as a world power.
More than a month later, on May 26, an Indonesian enquiry committee revealed that a time bomb with a ‘Made in USA’ detonator had caused the crash. Hong Kong was shocked and its authorities offered HK$100,000 (currently $78,000) for information on the culprits. As many as 71 people connected with the servicing of the Air-India flight were interrogated.
When the police drew on a lead named Chow, he boarded an American Civil Air Transport plane and flew to Taiwan. It was later found that KMT’s Tsang recruited Chow Tse-ming, alias Chou Chu, a month before the Kashmir Princess was bombed.
Chou Chu was a cleaner for Hong Kong Aircraft Engineering since 1950. KMT offered Chou a staggering HK$600,000 and refuge in Taiwan for performing a small task: planting a time bomb in
Kashmir Princess. Apparently, friends of Chou said that he had bragged about placing a bomb on plane, and splurged on himself before leaving the city.
The Kong Kong police tried to extradite Chou but Taiwan refused to acknowledge him as a KMT agent. More than a decade later, on October 24, 1967, a Soviet newspaper reported the defection of John Discoe Smith, a CIA agent. In his memoirs, “I Was an Agent of the CIA,” Smith talked how he delivered a time bomb to a Chinese Nationalist agent in India.
According to Smith, in 1955, Jack Curran, a CIA officer attached to the US Embassy in New Delhi, asked him to deliver a bag to a Wang Feng, a KMT agent at the Maidens Hotel in Delhi. Smith claimed it was a bomb.
The captain of the plane, DK Jatar who perished in the crash, along with co-pilot, MC Dixit and ground maintenance engineer Anant Karnik, became the first civilians to be awarded the Ashoka Chakra Award for “most conspicuous bravery, daring and self-sacrifice”.