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Shortly after takeoff from Gander, Newfoundland, Arrow Air Flight 1285 stalls and crashes about half a mile from the runway. All 256 passengers and crew on board are killed, including 248 US soldiers. The plane was coming from Egypt and refueling in Newfoundland before continuing on to the US. The crash will initially be widely reported to have been an accident, caused by icing on the airplane wings. Official US and Canadian investigations will also support this conclusion. However, information will later come out suggesting it was not an accident:
Members of Islamic Jihad, a branch of the Hezbollah militant group (not to be confused with the Islamic Jihad group headed by Ayman al-Zawahiri), immediately take credit for the crash. In one call to the Reuters news agency in Beirut, the caller knows details of the plane flight not yet mentioned in the press.
Within hours of the crash, Major General John Crosby arrives at the crash site and reportedly tells maintenance workers he wants to “bulldoze over the crash site immediately.” The White House also quickly publicly claims there is “no evidence of sabotage or an explosion in flight,” despite the fact that Hezbollah has just taken credit for the crash and the investigation is just beginning. While the site is not bulldozed, there is no effort to meticulously sift the wreckage for clues, which is standard procedure for such air crashes.
An FBI forensic team flies to Newfoundland within hours of the crash, but then merely sits in a hotel room. After 36 hours, the team accepts a declaration that terrorism was not involved and returns home. The FBI will claim the Canadian government did not allow its team to visit the site. (Rowan 4/27/1992)
In 1988, the nine-member Canadian Aviation Safety Board will issue a split verdict. Five members will attribute the crash to ice formation and four members will claim it was the result of an explosion. A former Canadian Supreme Court justice will be appointed to decide if there should be a new investigation. He will conclude that the available evidence does not support ice on the wings as being a cause, let alone a probable cause, of the crash. But he will also rule against a new investigation, saying it would cause more pain to the victims’ families. (Rowan 4/27/1992; Canadian Broadcasting Corporation 12/12/2005)
Later declassified autopsy reports will show that soldiers had inhaled smoke in the moments before they died, indicating there was a fire on board before the plane hit the ground. (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation 12/12/2005)
Five witnesses in the remote location where the plane crashes will sign sworn statements that they saw the plane burning before it fell.
An examination of the fuselage will show outward holes, indicating an explosion from within.
Four members of the refueling crew will assert there was no icing problem before the plane took off. The plane crashed about one minute after take off.
Six heavy crates were loaded into the plane’s cargo bay in Egypt without military customs clearance. Witnesses will claim that weapons, including TOW anti-tank missiles, were being stockpiled in Egypt near where the plane took off. At the time, the US was secretly selling these types of missiles to Iran as part of an arms-for-hostages deal.
In the wake of public exposure of the Iran-Contra affair, it will be revealed that Arrow Air is a CIA front company and was regularly used by Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North to ship arms.
Most of the crash victims are US Airborne troops returning from multinational peacekeeping duties in Egypt, but more than 20 Special Forces personnel were also on board. They were from elite counterterrorist units often used on hostage rescue missions.
Just days before the crash, Iranian officials threatened to retaliate after North sent them a shipment of the wrong missiles. North wrote three days earlier that he was determined to continue arms shipments. “To stop now in midstream would ignite Iranian fire,” he wrote, adding, “Hostages would be our minimum losses.” One theory will be that Iran used militant surrogates connected to Hezbollah to punish North for sending the wrong missiles. (Rowan 4/27/1992)
Gene Wheaton, a private investigator hired by victims’ relatives unsatisfied with the official explanation, will claim that a duffel bag stuffed with US currency was found in the wreckage. Two men in civilian clothes, who other personnel at the crash cite believe were from the CIA, took custody of the money. Neither the money nor the heavy crates will be mentioned by the official investigation.
In the early 1990s, two Time magazine reporters will be writing a book about the BCCI bank scandal. They will develop a reliable source, a private arms dealer using the alias Heinrich. Heinrich will tell them that a large amount of cash was on the Gander flight and he will tell them this before any accounts of cash being on the plane are reported in the media. Heinrich, who takes part in numerous arms deals with high-level BCCI officials, will tell the reporters: “This money on the plane was money that [BCCI founder Agha Hasan] Abedi, money that the bank had provided US intelligence for covert operations. The money was being used by the American military. I have no idea what for. You don’t ask these kinds of questions of these people.…. One of the bank men—perhaps I should call him an associate of the bank men—was a little angry about this money. He believed it was being, ah, appropriated, by some of the Special Forces soldiers. Someone else thought perhaps it was being diverted to another operation. I only know that the subject of the Gander crash came up and these people talked about BCCI money going down with it.” (Beaty and Gwynne 1993, pp. 231-233)
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