The Bombing of Pan Am Flight 103
On 21 December , NPA, the aircraft operating the transatlantic leg of the route was destroyed by a bomb, killing all passengers and 16 crew in what became known as the Lockerbie bombing. With a total of people killed, it is the deadliest terror attack in the history of the United Kingdom. In , Abdelbaset al-Megrahi , a Libyan intelligence officer, was jailed for life after being found guilty of counts of murder in connection with the bombing.
In August , he was released by the Scottish Government on compassionate grounds after being diagnosed with prostate cancer. He died in May as the only person to be convicted for the attack. In , Gaddafi accepted responsibility for the Lockerbie bombing and paid compensation to the families of the victims, although he maintained that he had never given the order for the attack.
Libya said it had to accept responsibility due to Megrahi's status as a government employee. During the Libyan Civil War in , former Minister of Justice Mustafa Abdul Jalil claimed that the Libyan leader had personally ordered the bombing, though this was later denied,  while investigators have long believed that Megrahi did not act alone, and have been reported as questioning retired Stasi agents about a possible role in the attack.
Some relatives of the dead, including the Lockerbie campaigner Dr Jim Swire, believe the bomb was planted at Heathrow airport and not sent via feeder flights from Malta, as the US and UK claim. PA was bookable as a single Frankfurt-New York or a Frankfurt-Detroit itinerary, though a scheduled change of aircraft took place in London.
At London Heathrow Airport , passengers and their luggage as well as an unaccompanied interline luggage on the feeder flight transferred directly onto the Boeing , which originated from Los Angeles and arrived from San Francisco. Contrary to many popular accounts of the disaster though repeated, with reference, below , the flight, which had a scheduled gate departure time of , left Heathrow airport on time. After the bombing, the flight number was changed, in accordance with standard practice among airlines after disasters.
At , the aircraft established two-way radio contact with Shanwick Oceanic Area Control in Prestwick on On scope, the aircraft showed transponder code , or "squawk", and flight level At , the clearance delivery officer at Shanwick transmitted its oceanic route clearance. The aircraft did not acknowledge this message. The Clipper Maid of the Seas ' "squawk" then flickered off. Air Traffic Control tried to make contact with the flight, with no response.
Pan Am Flight 103 conspiracy theories
At this time a loud sound was recorded on the cockpit voice recorder CVR at Five radar echoes fanning out appeared, instead of one. The explosion punched a cm inch hole on the left side of the fuselage. There was no evidence of a distress signal; a millisecond hissing noise could be heard as the explosion destroyed the aircraft's communications centre.
The aircraft's elevator and rudder control cables had been disrupted and the fuselage pitched downwards and to the left. Investigators from the Air Accidents Investigation Branch AAIB of the British Department for Transport concluded that the nose of the aircraft was effectively blown off, and was separated from the main section within three seconds of the explosion. The nose cone was briefly held on by a band of metal but facing aft, like the lid of a can. It then sheared off, up and backwards to starboard, striking off the No.
According to the report, the rest of the wreckage composed of "the complete fuselage forward of approximately station to station and incorporating the flight deck and nose landing gear was found as one piece in a field approximately 4 kilometres 2. All passengers and 16 crew members were killed, as were 11 residents of Lockerbie on the ground.
Pan Am flight 103
Of the total fatalities, were American citizens and 43 British citizens. Nineteen other nationalities were represented, with four or fewer passengers per country. Flight was under the command of Captain James Bruce MacQuarrie 55 , an experienced pilot with almost 11, flight hours, of which more than 4, had been accrued in aircraft. First Officer Ray Wagner 52 had approximately 5, flight hours in the and a total of almost 12, hours. Flight Engineer Jerry Don Avritt 46 had more than 8, hours of flying experience, with nearly hours in the He had come to Pan Am through the merger with National Airlines.
The cockpit crew was based at JFK.
ARCHIVE: Lockerbie Bombing 1988 - BBC Newsnight
Six of the 13 cabin crew members became naturalised US citizens while working for Pan Am. All were originally hired by Pan Am and ranged from 28 years to nine months in seniority. The captain, first officer, flight engineer, a flight attendant and several First Class passengers were found still strapped to their seats inside the nose section when it crashed in Tundergarth.
The inquest heard that a flight attendant was found alive by a farmer's wife, but died before her discoverer could summon help.
Some passengers may have remained alive briefly after impact; a pathologist's report concluded that at least two of these passengers might have survived if they had been found soon enough.
Pan Am Flight 103 bombing investigation
Thirty-five of the passengers were students from Syracuse University returning home for Christmas following a semester studying in London at Syracuse's London campus.
Prominent among the passenger victims was the year-old UN Commissioner for Namibia , Bernt Carlsson , who would have attended the signing ceremony of the New York Accords at the UN headquarters the following day.
There was a party of US intelligence specialists on board the flight. Their presence gave rise to speculations and conspiracy theories , in which one or more of them were said to have been targeted.
Their bodies were never found. Several other houses and their foundations were destroyed, and 21 others were damaged so badly they had to be demolished. A family of four were killed when their house at 15 Sherwood Crescent exploded. Their son witnessed a fireball engulfing his home from a neighbour's garage, where he had been repairing his sister's bicycle. Father Patrick Keegans, Lockerbie's Roman Catholic priest, was preparing to visit the Henrys at approximately 7 pm that evening with his mother, having recently been appointed a parish priest of the town.
The same source claims that, following this, "the shaking stopped and to his surprise he was uninjured".
Mrs Keegans was also unharmed, having been shielded from debris by a fridge-freezer. Despite being advised by their governments not to travel to Lockerbie, many of the passengers' relatives, most of them from the US, arrived there within days to identify the dead. Volunteers from Lockerbie set up and staffed canteens, which stayed open 24 hours a day and offered relatives, soldiers, police officers, and social workers free sandwiches, hot meals, coffee, and someone to talk to.
The people of the town washed, dried, and ironed every piece of clothing that was found once the police had determined they were of no forensic value, so that as many items as possible could be returned to the relatives.
The BBC 's Scotland correspondent, Andrew Cassell, reported on the 10th anniversary of the bombing that the townspeople had "opened their homes and hearts" to the relatives, bearing their own losses "stoically and with enormous dignity", and that the bonds forged then continue to this day. On 5 December 16 days prior to the attack , the Federal Aviation Administration FAA issued a security bulletin saying that, on that day, a man with an Arabic accent had telephoned the US Embassy in Helsinki , Finland and told them that a Pan Am flight from Frankfurt to the United States would be blown up within the next two weeks by someone associated with the Abu Nidal Organization ; he said a Finnish woman would carry the bomb on board as an unwitting courier.
The anonymous warning was taken seriously by the US government and the State Department cabled the bulletin to dozens of embassies. On 13 December, the warning was posted on bulletin boards in the US Embassy in Moscow and eventually distributed to the entire American community there, including journalists and businessmen.
Just days before the sabotage of the aircraft, security forces in European countries, including the UK, were put on alert after a warning from the Palestine Liberation Organization PLO that extremists might launch terrorist attacks to undermine the then ongoing dialogue between the United States and the PLO. The day of the bombing, the French Directorate-General for External Security was informed by their British counterpart that the English suspected the Libyans to be behind the bombing.
According to a CIA analysis dated 22 December , several groups were quick to claim responsibility in telephone calls in the United States and Europe:. The list's author noted, "We consider the claims from the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution as the most credible one received so far," but the analysis concluded, "We cannot assign responsibility for this tragedy to any terrorist group at this time.
We anticipate that, as often happens, many groups will seek to claim credit. Muammar Gaddafi took responsibility for the Lockerbie bombing and paid compensation to the victims' families in , though he maintained that he had not ordered the attack. A flood of warnings immediately preceding the disaster had included one that read: 'team of Palestinians not associated with PLO intends to attack US targets in Europe.
Time frame is present. On Dalkamoni's account bombs made by Khreesat were at large somewhere. The initial investigation into the crash site by Dumfries and Galloway Constabulary involved many helicopter surveys, satellite imaging, and a search of the area by police and soldiers. The wreckage of the crash was scattered over 2, square kilometres and AAIB investigators were confronted by a massive jigsaw puzzle in trying to piece the plane back together.
Pan am flight 103 wreckage book
In total, 4 million pieces of wreckage were collected and registered on computer files. More than 10, pieces of debris were retrieved, tagged and entered into a computer tracking system. The perpetrators had apparently intended the plane to crash into the sea, destroying any traceable evidence, but the late departure time contrary to statement, with reference, above , of the aircraft meant that its explosion over land left a trail of evidence.
Examination of the baggage containers revealed that the container nearest the hole had blackening, pitting, and severe damage, indicating a "high-energy event" had taken place inside it. A series of test explosions were carried out to confirm the precise location and quantity of explosive used.
Fragments of a Samsonite suitcase believed to have contained the bomb were recovered, together with parts and pieces of circuit board identified as components of a Toshiba 'Bombeat' RT-SF16, radio cassette player, similar to that used to conceal a Semtex bomb seized by West German police from the Palestinian militant group Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine — General Command two months earlier.
Items of baby clothing, which were subsequently proven to have been made in Malta, were thought to have come from the same suitcase. The clothes were traced to a Maltese merchant, Tony Gauci , who became a key prosecution witness, testifying that he sold the clothes to a man of Libyan appearance.
Gauci was interviewed 23 times, giving contradictory evidence about who had bought the clothes, that person's age and appearance, and the date of purchase, but later identified Abdelbaset al-Megrahi.
As Megrahi had only been in Malta on 7 December, that date was assumed to be the purchase date.
This date is in doubt as Gauci had testified that Malta's Christmas lights had not been on when the clothes had been purchased; it was subsequently determined that the lights had been switched on on 6 December. Scottish police had also failed to inform the defence that another witness had testified seeing Libyan men making a similar purchase on a different day. Gauci then identified al-Megrahi for the court stating — "He is the man on this side.
He resembles him a lot". A circuit board fragment, allegedly found embedded in a piece of charred material, was identified as part of an electronic timer similar to one found on a Libyan intelligence agent who had been arrested 10 months previously for carrying materials for a Semtex bomb.
December 21, 1988
The timer was allegedly traced through its Swiss manufacturer, Mebo , to the Libyan military, and Mebo employee Ulrich Lumpert identified the fragment at al-Megrahi's trial. Mebo's owner, Edwin Bollier , testified at the trial that the Scottish police had originally shown him a fragment of a brown 8-ply circuit board from a prototype timer which had never been supplied to Libya.
Yet the sample he was asked to identify at the trial was a green 9-ply circuit board that Mebo had indeed supplied to Libya. Bollier wanted to pursue this discrepancy, but was told by trial judge Lord Sutherland that he could not do so. Known as the Lockerbie bombing and the Lockerbie air disaster in the UK, it was described by Scotland's Lord Advocate as the UK's largest criminal inquiry led by the smallest police force in Britain, Dumfries and Galloway Constabulary.
UN sanctions against Libya and protracted negotiations with Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi secured the handover of the accused on 5 April to Scottish police at Camp Zeist, Netherlands , which was selected as a neutral venue for their trial. Both the accused chose not to give evidence in court. On 31 January , Megrahi was convicted of murder by a panel of three Scottish judges and sentenced to life imprisonment, but Fhimah was acquitted.
Megrahi's appeal against his conviction was refused on 14 March , and his application to the European Court of Human Rights was declared inadmissible in July Megrahi served just over 10 years of his sentence beginning 5 April ,  first in Barlinnie prison, Glasgow, and latterly in Greenock prison, Renfrewshire, throughout which time he maintained that he was innocent of the charges against him. He was released from prison on compassionate grounds on 20 August In October , Scottish prosecutors announced that they wanted to interview two Libyan nationals, whom they had identified as new suspects, over the bombing.
Megrahi was found guilty of counts of murder on 31 January , and was sentenced to life imprisonment in Scotland; his co-defendant, Fhimah, was found not guilty. The Lockerbie judgment stated: "From the evidence which we have discussed so far, we are satisfied that it has been proved that the primary suitcase containing the explosive device was dispatched from Malta, passed through Frankfurt and was loaded onto PA at Heathrow.