How I found the cover-up of an airline disaster

Full disclosure here.  Everything I know about a cover-up of the cause of the crash of Swissair 111 in September of 1998, the second worst air disaster in Canadian history, I learned from Tom Juby.   When I first met Tom, it was about a year after that crash near Nova Scotia’s famous Peggy’s Cove.  He was then a forensic identification investigator with the RCMP, having been assigned to examine the physical evidence of the crash.

I could tell right away that Tom Juby was no opportunist, seeking to profit from the disaster.  That day, his mind and feelings were much troubled and impacted by events relating to the investigation.  Not only was he affected by the horrible scale and details of the human loss of life, he and the lead investigator for the federal government had uncovered evidence of an “incendiary device” on board the fatal flight, and also a number of strange facts about the flight itself.

But perhaps worst of all, for Tom, was the fact that his own bosses in the RCMP had wanted to shut down his sleuthing of a criminal cause. They wanted him to alter his notes in order to delete any reference to possible criminality (just like the Transportation Safety Board later ordered their expert investigator, Dr. Jim Brown, to change a similar reference in his own report).  In a tired and depressed tone, Tom started telling me technical and scientific facts that I barely understood, and also suspicious details of the flight that were much easier to grasp.  Among the latter was the passenger list, which included a Saudi prince and several United Nations officials, and there was a missing cargo of diamonds.  Later, he would add further disturbing bits of detail, such as first class passengers having been inexplicably moved to the rear of the plane, and a missing airport worker who had been in the plane before its take-off  but who, after only one shift on the job, had vanished without a trace except his false identity in the airport employee file.

Despite these and other anomalies, RCMP brass decided already on the third day of the investigation that there was no point to further examine the passenger list, and indeed before long they decided the Swissair crash was only an appropriate study from a safety perspective, not from a forensic/criminal one.  Yet the names of Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda had been mentioned, more than two years before the destruction of Manhattan’s Twin Towers on 9-11.  Tom wonders how history might have unfolded differently if the Swissair investigation had been handled better.

At his home last year, Tom filled me in on his plans to publish a book of his findings.  In the intervening years, he had retired from the RCMP, taken a different job, and had been the focus of an episode on CBC’s investigative journalism program, “The Fifth Estate.”  Now about to resign from his other work, he could concentrate on the book and the expected publicity, some of which could well be hostile.

The book is finally available, called Twice As Far: the true story of the Swissair 111 airplane crash.  Readers who may be especially interested in the story can get further details and news on Tom Juby’s web site at  www.swissair111.ca

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