Pan Am Flight 103

Pan Am Flight 103
Pan Am Flight 103

CGI impression of Clipper Maid of the Seas immediately after the explosion
Occurrence summary
Date 21 December 1988
Type Bombing
Site Lockerbie, Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland
Passengers 243
Crew 16
Fatalities 270 (259 in aircraft, 11 on ground)
Survivors 0
Aircraft type Boeing 747–121
Aircraft name Clipper Maid of the Seas[1]
Operator Pan Am
Tail number N739PA
Flight origin Frankfurt am Main Airport
1st stopover London Heathrow Airport
2nd stopover John F. Kennedy International Airport
Destination Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport

Pan Am Flight 103 was Pan American World Airways' third daily scheduled transatlantic flight from London Heathrow Airport to New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport. On Wednesday, 21 December 1988, the aircraft flying this route — a Boeing 747–121 registered N739PA and named “Clipper Maid of the Seas” — was destroyed by a bomb, killing all 243 passengers and 16 crew members.[2] Eleven people in Lockerbie, in southern Scotland, were also killed as large sections of the plane fell in the town and destroyed several houses, bringing total fatalities to 270. As a result, the event is also known as the Lockerbie bombing.



Pan Am Flight 103 was a Boeing 747–121 named Clipper Maid of the Seas. The jumbo jet was the fifteenth 747 built and was delivered in February 1970,[3][4] one month after the first 747 entered service with Pan Am.[3][5] The Maid of the Seas operated the transatlantic leg of Flight 103, which had originated in Frankfurt, West Germany, on a Boeing 727. At London Heathrow passengers and their luggage on the feeder flight transferred directly onto the Boeing 747, along with interline luggage not accompanied by anyone. The aircraft pushed back from the gate at 18:04, and lifted off at 18:25. Captain James B. McQuarrie flew northwest into the Daventry departure over the Midlands and levelled off at 31,000 ft about 25 miles north of Manchester at 18:56.


A Boeing 747–100 similar to Pan Am 103. The explosion occurred almost directly under the 'P' in the "Pan Am" name on the side of the fuselage.

At 19:01 UTC, air traffic controller Alan Topp watched Flight 103 approach the corner of the Solway Firth on his screen and observed as it crossed the coast at 19:02 UTC. On his scope, the aircraft showed transponder code or "squawk"—0357 and flight level—310.[citation needed] At this point, Clipper Maid of the Seas was flying at 31,000 feet (9,400 m) on a heading of 316 degrees magnetic, and at a speed of 313 kn (580 km/h) calibrated airspeed, at 19:02:46.9. Subsequent analysis of the radar returns by RSRE concluded that the aircraft was tracking 321° (grid) and travelling at a ground speed of 434 knots (804 km/h).

Contact is lost

At that moment, Clipper Maid of the Seas' "squawk" flickered off. Topp tried to make contact with Captain MacQuarrie, with no response. Over in the Oceanic Clearance Office, ATC assistant Tom Fraser tried as well and asked a nearby KLM flight to do the same, but there was no reply. Where there should have been one radar echo on Topp's screen, there were four, and as the seconds passed, the echoes began to fan out.[6][7] Comparison of the cockpit voice recorder with the radar returns showed that eight seconds after the explosion, the wreckage had a 1-nautical-mile (1.9 km) spread.[8] British Airways pilot Captain Robin Chamberlain, flying the Glasgow–London shuttle near Carlisle, called Scottish authorities to report that he could see a huge fire on the ground. The destruction of PA103 continued on Topp's screen, by now full of returns moving eastward with the wind.[9]

Disintegration of aircraft

The explosion punched a 20-inch (0.51 m)-wide hole on the left side of the fuselage, almost directly under the "P" in the "Pan Am" logo painted in the fuselage. The disintegration of the aircraft was rapid.

Later, investigators from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) were lowered into the cockpit in the wreckage before it was moved from the crash site, and while the bodies of the flight crew were still in the cockpit. Investigators concluded that no emergency procedures had been started.[10] The pressure control and fuel switches were both set for cruise, and the crew had not used their oxygen masks, which would have been required within five seconds of a rapid depressurisation of the aircraft. Investigators from the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) of the British Department for Transport concluded that the nose of the aircraft separated from the main section within three seconds of the explosion.[11] The cockpit voice recorder, a recording device in the tail section of the aircraft, was found in a field by police searchers within 24 hours of the bombing. There was no evidence of a distress signal: a 180-millisecond hissing noise could be heard as the explosion destroyed the aircraft's communications centre.[12] Although the explosion was in the aircraft hold, the effect was increased by the large (3:1) difference between aircraft cabin pressure and the outside air pressure (the latter is about a quarter of the former).

Shock waves from the blast ricocheted back from the fuselage skin in the direction of the bomb, meeting pulses still coming from the initial explosion. This produced Mach stem shock waves, calculated to be 25% faster than, and double the power of, the waves from the explosion itself.[13] These Mach stem waves pulsing through the ductwork bounced off overhead luggage racks and other hard surfaces, jolting the passengers. A section of the 747's roof, several feet above the point of detonation, peeled away. The nerve centre of a 747, from which all the navigation and communication systems are controlled, is located below the cockpit, separated from the forward cargo hold by a bulkhead wall. Investigators concluded that the force of the explosion broke through this wall and shook the flight-control cables, causing the front section of the fuselage to begin to roll, pitch, and yaw.[citation needed]

The shock waves of the explosion rebounded from one side of the aircraft to the other, running down the length of the fuselage through the air-conditioning ducts and splitting the fuselage open. This in turn snapped the reinforcing belt that secured the front section to the row of windows on the left side and it began to break away. Then the whole front section of the aircraft, containing the flight deck with crew and the first class section, broke away altogether, flying upwards and to starboard, striking the No. 3 Pratt & Whitney engine as it snapped off.[14] With the disruption of the steering cables, the aircraft went into a steep dive. When the fuselage disintegrated, the cabin depressurised to a quarter of ground-level pressure, leaving the passengers fighting for breath. Because of the sudden change in air pressure, the gases inside the passengers' bodies would have expanded to four times their normal volume, causing their lungs to swell and then collapse.

The explosion knocked out the power, plunging the passenger cabin into darkness. A Scottish Fatal Accident Inquiry, which opened on 1 October 1990, heard testimony that, when the cockpit broke off, the fuselage was now an open cylinder. Tornado-force winds tore up the aisles, slamming into the chests, making it even more difficult to breathe, and stripping the clothes off the passengers. Some were thrown to the rear. Other people and objects not fixed down were blown out of the aircraft into the night at temperatures of −46 °C (−51 °F), their 31,000-foot (9,400 m) fall through the nighttime troposphere lasting about two minutes.[15] Some passengers remained attached to the fuselage by their seat belts, crashing to earth strapped to their seats. Although the passengers would have lost consciousness through lack of oxygen, forensic examiners believe some of them might have regained consciousness as they fell toward oxygen-rich lower altitudes. Forensic pathologist Dr. William G. Eckert, director of the Milton Helpern International Center of Forensic Sciences at Wichita State University, who examined the autopsy evidence, told Scottish police he believed the flight crew, some of the flight attendants, and 147 other passengers survived the bomb blast and depressurisation of the aircraft, and may have been alive on impact.[citation needed] None of these passengers showed signs of injury from the explosion itself, or from the decompression and disintegration of the aircraft. Forensic tests on some of the bodies suggested that their heartbeats may have continued after the explosion. David McMullon, a helicopter pilot who was involved in the search for bodies, claimed to have found one victim who was clutching a handful of grass.[16]

Fuselage (wing section) impact

Nose section of Clipper Maid of the Seas

Investigators believe that within three seconds of the explosion, the cockpit, fuselage, and No. 3 engine were falling separately. The fuselage continued moving forward and down until it reached 19,000 ft (5,800 m), at which point its dive became almost vertical.[17]

As it descended, the fuselage broke into smaller pieces, with the section attached to the wings landing first (46.5 seconds after the explosion)[18] in Sherwood Crescent, Lockerbie, where the 200,000 lb (91,000 kg) of kerosene contained inside ignited. The resultant fireball destroyed a number of houses and was so intense that little remained of the left wing of the aircraft. No identifiable remains of 8 passengers seated between rows 23–28 were ever recovered; these seats were located in the wing section directly above the centre wing tank. Also, the remains of 7 of the 11 residents killed in the inferno on the ground at Sherwood Crescent were never identified.[19]

Investigators were able to determine that both wings had landed in the crater after counting the number of large steel flap drive jackscrews that were later found there[7][page needed] – indeed there were no finds of wing structure outside the crater itself.[20] The British Geological Survey at nearby Eskdalemuir registered a seismic event measuring 1.6 on the Richter scale.

Another section of the fuselage landed about half a mile northeast, where it slammed into widow Ella Ramsden's home in Park Place. Her house was demolished, but Ramsden escaped. Ramsden's back garden was strewn with bodies and wreckage, and a victim was found wedged in the roof still strapped in his seat.[21]


Nationality Passengers Crew On Ground Total
 Argentina 2 0 0 2
 Belgium 1 0 0 1
 Bolivia 1 0 0 1
 Canada 3 0 0 3
 France 2 1 0 3
 Germany 3 1 0 4
 Hungary 4 0 0 4
 India 3 0 0 3
 Ireland 3 0 0 3
 Israel 1 0 0 1
 Italy 2 0 0 2
 Jamaica 1 0 0 1
 Japan 1 0 0 1
 Philippines 1 0 0 1
 South Africa 1 0 0 1
 Spain 0 1 0 1
 Sweden 2 1 0 3
 Switzerland 1 0 0 1
 Trinidad and Tobago 1 0 0 1
 United Kingdom 31 1 11 43
 United States 178 11 0 189
Total 243 16 11 270
Passengers and crew

All 243 passengers and 16 crew members were killed. Eleven residents of Lockerbie also died. Of the total of 270 fatalities, 189 were American citizens and 43 British citizens. No more than 4 of the remaining 37 victims of the bombing came from any one of the 19 other countries.[22][23]

Dr Eckert told Scottish police that distinctive marks on Captain MacQuarrie's thumb suggested he had been hanging onto the yoke of the plane as it descended, and may have been alive when the plane crashed. The captain, first officer, flight engineer, a flight attendant and a number of first-class passengers were found still strapped to their seats inside the nose section when it crashed in a field by a tiny church in the village of Tundergarth. The inquest heard that the flight attendant was alive when found by a farmer's wife, but died before her discoverer could summon help.[7][page needed]

The flight deck crew was New York/JFK based, while the cabin crew was based at London Heathrow. Places of birth or nationality included: three from the USA, two from France, and one each from Sweden, West Germany, Spain, the Philippines, England, Dominican Republic, Norway and Czechoslovakia. Many of these crewmembers had become naturalised US citizens while working for Pan Am. 35 of the passengers were students from Syracuse University returning home for Christmas following a semester as exchange students in London.

Notable passengers
Dryfesdale Cemetery memorial stone dedicated to Bernt Carlsson

Prominent among the passenger victims was the 50-year-old UN Commissioner for Namibia, Bernt Carlsson, who would have attended the signing ceremony at UN headquarters on 22 December 1988 of the New York Accords.[24] Also aboard were Volkswagen America CEO James Fuller and Volkswagen America Marketing Director Lou Marengo who were returning from a meeting with Volkswagen executives in Germany; English musician Paul Jeffreys and his wife Rachel, and poet and former girlfriend of musician Robert Fripp, Joanna Walton, credited with writing most of the lyrics on the 1979 album Exposure. Jonathan White, aged 33, was the son of David White who played Larry Tate on the sitcom Bewitched.

U.S. government officials

There were at least four U.S. government officials on the passenger list, with rumours, never confirmed, of a fifth on board. The presence of these men on the flight later gave rise to a number of conspiracy theories, in which one or more of them were said to have been targeted.[25]

Matthew Gannon, the CIA's deputy station chief in Beirut, Lebanon, was sitting in Clipper Class, Pan Am's version of business class,[26] seat 14J. Major Chuck "Tiny" McKee, an army officer on secondment to the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) in Beirut, sat behind Gannon in the center aisle in seat 15F. Two Diplomatic Security Service special agents, acting as bodyguards to Gannon and McKee, were sitting in economy: Ronald Lariviere, a security officer from the U.S. Embassy in Beirut, was in 20H, and Daniel O'Connor, a security officer from the U.S. Embassy in Nicosia, Cyprus, sat five rows behind Lariviere in 25H, both men seated over the right wing. The four men had flown together out of Cyprus that morning.

Lockerbie residents

On the ground, 11 Lockerbie residents were killed when the wing section hit 13 Sherwood Crescent at more than 800 km/h (500 mph) and exploded, creating a crater 47 m (154 ft) long and with a volume of 560 m3 (730 cu yd),[27] vaporising the house and its occupants, Dora and Maurice Henry.[28] Several other houses and their foundations were completely destroyed, and 21 others were damaged so badly they had to be demolished. Four members of one family, Jack and Rosalind Somerville and their children Paul, 13, and Lynsey, 10, died when their house at 15 Sherwood Crescent exploded.

Kathleen Flannigan, age 41, Thomas Flannigan, 44, and their daughter Joanne, 10, were killed by the explosion in their house 16 Sherwood Crescent. Their son Steven, 14, saw the fireball engulf his home from a neighbour's garage where he had gone to repair his sister's bicycle.

The fireball rose above the houses and moved toward the nearby Glasgow–Carlisle A74 dual carriageway, scorching cars in the southbound lanes and leading motorists and local residents to believe that there had been a meltdown at the nearby Chapelcross nuclear power station. Father Patrick Keegans, Lockerbie's Roman Catholic priest, was preparing to visit his neighbours at around 7 pm that evening when the plane destroyed their home. There was nothing left of his neighbours to bury. The priest's home, at 1 Sherwood Crescent, was the only house that was neither destroyed by the impact nor gutted by fire.[29]

For many days, Lockerbie residents lived with the sight of bodies in their gardens and in the streets, as forensic workers photographed and tagged the location of each body to help determine the exact position and force of the on-board explosion, by coordinating information about each passenger's assigned seat, type of injury, and where they had landed. Local resident Bunty Galloway told authors Geraldine Sheridan and Thomas Kenning (1993):

"A boy was lying at the bottom of the steps on to the road. A young laddie with brown socks and blue trousers on. Later that evening my son-in-law asked for a blanket to cover him. I didn't know he was dead. I gave him a lamb's wool travelling rug thinking I'd keep him warm. Two more girls were lying dead across the road, one of them bent over garden railings. It was just as though they were sleeping. The boy lay at the bottom of my stairs for days. Every time I came back to my house for clothes he was still there. 'My boy is still there,' I used to tell the waiting policeman. Eventually on Saturday I couldn't take it no more. 'You got to get my boy lifted,' I told the policeman. That night he was moved."[30]

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 their loved ones. Volunteers from Lockerbie set up and manned canteens, which stayed open 24 hours a day, where relatives, soldiers, police officers and social workers could find 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 Scottish correspondent, Andrew Cassell, reported on the tenth 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 them continue to this day.[31]

People booked who did not board

There were instances of people who were supposed to board Pan Am Flight 103, but arrived too late to board the flight, escaping the fate of those on board.

The potential "271st victim"

Jaswant Basuta, an Indian national, was checked in for Pan Am Flight 103, but arrived at the boarding gate too late. Having attended a family wedding in Belfast, Basuta was returning to New York where the 47-year old car mechanic was about to start a new job. Friends and relatives from nearby Southall came to see him off at the airport terminal, and bought him drinks in the upstairs bar. When "gate closing" flashed on the departure screen, Basuta hurried through security and sprinted to the departure gate, but the room was empty except for Pan Am ground staff who denied him access to the aircraft.

Basuta was initially considered a suspect as his checked baggage had been on the flight without him. After questioning at a Heathrow police station, he was released without charge. Twenty years later, in an interview with the BBC, Basuta talked about his narrow escape from death: "I should have been the 271st victim and I still feel terrible for all the other people who died."[32]

South African foreign minister

The South African foreign minister Pik Botha and a minor delegation of 22 was supposed to board Pan Am 103, but managed to take the earlier Pan Am 101 flight. They were on their way to New York to sign the tripartite agreement whereby South Africa agreed to hand control of Namibia to the United Nations. The UN commissioner appointed to take over, Bernt Carlsson, was among the victims of Flight 103 as mentioned above.


The R&B singing group The Four Tops had been scheduled to board Pan Am Flight 103 to return to the United States for Christmas after completing their European tour, but were late getting out of a recording session and overslept.[33][34]

Punk rock musician John Lydon (Johnny Rotten) of the Sex Pistols and Public Image Ltd. and his wife, Nora, were also booked on Pan Am Flight 103, but missed it due to delays.[35]

The 1988 world tennis No. 1 Mats Wilander had made a reservation but did not take a seat on the flight.[36]

The actress Kim Cattrall was also booked on the flight but changed her reservation shortly beforehand in order to complete some last minute gift shopping in London.[37][38]

Prior alerts

A number of alerts were posted shortly before the bombing.

Helsinki warning
CIA and the Helsinki warning

On 5 December 1988 (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 U.S. Embassy in Helsinki, Finland, and had 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.[39]

The anonymous warning was taken seriously by the U.S. government. The State Department cabled the bulletin to dozens of embassies. The FAA sent it to all U.S. carriers, including Pan Am, which had charged each of the passengers a $5 security surcharge, promising a "program that will screen passengers, employees, airport facilities, baggage and aircraft with unrelenting thoroughness";[40] the security team in Frankfurt found the warning hidden under a pile of papers on a desk the day after the bombing.[7][page needed] One of the Frankfurt security screeners, whose job was to spot explosive devices under X-ray, told ABC News that she had first learned what Semtex (a plastic explosive) was during her ABC interview 11 months after the bombing.[41]

On 13 December, the warning was posted on bulletin boards in the U.S. Embassy in Moscow and eventually distributed to the entire American community there, including journalists and businessmen. As a result, a number of people allegedly booked on carriers other than Pan Am, leaving empty seats on PA103 that were later sold cheaply in "bucket shops".[citation needed]

PLO warning

Just days before the sabotage of the aircraft, security forces in a number of European countries, including Britain, 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.[42]

Claims of responsibility

According to a CIA analysis dated 22 December 1988, several groups were quick to claim responsibility in telephone calls in the United States and Europe:

  • A male caller claimed that a group called the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution had destroyed the plane in retaliation for the U.S. shootdown of Iran Air Flight 655 in the Persian Gulf the previous July.
  • A caller claiming to represent the Islamic Jihad Organization told ABC News in New York that the group had planted the bomb.

After finishing this list, the author stated, "We consider the claims from the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution as the most credible one received so far". 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".[43][44]

  • On 22 February 2011 during the 2011 Libyan civil war, the ex Minister of Justice Mustafa Abdul Jalil stated in an interview with the Swedish newspaper Expressen that Muammar Gaddafi had personally ordered the bombing.[45]


Sign leading to the entrance of the Air Accidents Investigation Branch compound at Farnborough Airport

The initial investigation into the crash site by Dumfries and Galloway Constabulary involved many helicopter surveys, satellite imaging, and a fingertip search of the area by police and soldiers. More than 10,000 pieces of debris were retrieved, tagged and entered into a computer tracking system. The perpetrators had apparently initially intended the plane to crash into the sea, destroying any traceable evidence, but the late departure time of the aircraft meant that its explosion over land left a veritable trail of evidence.[46]

The fuselage of the aircraft was reconstructed by air accident investigators, revealing a 20-inch (510 mm) hole consistent with an explosion in the forward cargo hold. 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.

Cassette player similar to the one allegedly used in the disaster

Fragments of a Samsonite suitcase believed to have contained the bomb were recovered, together with parts and pieces of circuit board identified as part of a Toshiba Bombeat 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 also 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, 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. An official report, providing information not made available to the defence during the original trial, stated that, four days before identifying al-Megrahi for the first time, Gauci had seen a picture of al-Megrahi in a magazine which connected him to the bombing, a fact which could have distorted his judgment.[47] The date is also in doubt as Gauci had testified that Malta's Christmas lights had not been on when the clothes had been purchased, it has since been found they had been switched 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.[48]

A circuit board fragment, allegedly found embedded in a piece of charred material, was identified as part of an electronic timer similar to that found on a Libyan intelligence agent who had been arrested 10 months previously, carrying materials for a Semtex bomb. The timer allegedly was 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, of 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.[49] Bollier later revealed that in 1991 he had declined an offer from the FBI of $4 million to testify that the timer fragment was part of a Mebo MST-13 timer supplied to Libya. On 18 July 2007, Ulrich Lumpert admitted he had lied at the trial.[50] In a sworn affidavit before a Zurich notary public, Lumpert stated that he had stolen a prototype MST-13 timer printed circuit board from Mebo and gave it without permission on 22 June 1989, to "an official person investigating the Lockerbie case".[51] Dr Hans Köchler, UN observer at the Lockerbie trial, who was sent a copy of Lumpert's affidavit, said: "The Scottish authorities are now obliged to investigate this situation. Not only has Mr Lumpert admitted to stealing a sample of the timer, but to the fact he gave it to an official and then lied in court". Traces of high explosives RDX and pentaerythritol tetranitrate (PETN) were found in close proximity to the explosion.[52][53][54][55]

In a documentary entitled "Lockerbie Revisited" aired on 27 April 2009, the film's director and narrator, Gideon Levy, interviewed officials involved with the case. Former FBI Laboratory scientist Fred Whitehurst described the FBI laboratory itself as a "crime scene", where an unqualified colleague Thomas Thurman would routinely alter his scientific reports. The interviews also revealed that the timer fragment had never been tested for explosives residue due to "budgetary reasons". Thurman, who led the forensic investigation and identified the fragments' Libyan connection, confirmed that it was the "only real piece of evidence against Libya" and when asked of the importance of the timer in the conviction of al-Megrahi, FBI Task Force Chief Richard Marquise stated, "It would be a very difficult case to prove ... I don't think we would ever (have) had an indictment".[56]

Investigators discovered that a bag had been routed onto PA 103, via the interline baggage system at Frankfurt, from the station and approximate time at which bags were unloaded from flight KM180 from Malta. Although documentation for flight KM180 indicated that all bags on that flight were accounted for, the court inferred that the bag came from that flight and that it contained the bomb.[57] In 2009, it was revealed that security guard Ray Manley had reported that Heathrow's Pan Am baggage area had been broken into 17 hours before flight 103 took off. Police lost the report and it was never investigated or brought up at trial.[58]

Criminal inquiry

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.[59]

After a three-year joint investigation by Dumfries and Galloway Constabulary and the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, during which 15,000 witness statements were taken, indictments for murder were issued on 13 November 1991 against Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, a Libyan intelligence officer and the head of security for Libyan Arab Airlines (LAA), and Lamin Khalifah Fhimah, the LAA station manager in Luqa Airport, Malta. UN sanctions against Libya and protracted negotiations with the Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi secured the handover of the accused on 5 April 1999 to Scottish police at Camp Zeist, Netherlands, having been chosen as a neutral venue for their trial.

Both accused persons chose not to give evidence in court. On 31 January 2001, 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 2002, and his application to the European Court of Human Rights was declared inadmissible in July 2003. On 23 September 2003, Megrahi applied to the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) for his conviction to be reviewed, and on 28 June 2007 the SCCRC announced its decision to refer the case to the Court of Criminal Appeal in Edinburgh after it found he "may have suffered a miscarriage of justice".[60]

Megrahi served just over 8½ years of his sentence in Greenock Prison, 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 2009.[61]

Trial, appeals and release

On 3 May 2000, the trial of the two Libyans, Abdelbaset al-Megrahi and Lamin Khalifah Fhimah, accused of the downing of Pan Am Flight 103, began. Megrahi was convicted of murder on 31 January 2001, and was sentenced to life imprisonment in Scotland. His co-accused, Fhimah, was found not guilty.[62]

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 PA103 at Heathrow. It is, as we have said, clear that with one exception the clothing in the primary suitcase was the clothing purchased in Mr Gauci’s shop on 7 December 1988. The purchaser was, on Mr Gauci’s evidence, a Libyan. The trigger for the explosion was an MST-13 timer of the single solder mask variety. A substantial quantity of such timers had been supplied to Libya. We cannot say that it is impossible that the clothing might have been taken from Malta, united somewhere with a timer from some source other than Libya and introduced into the airline baggage system at Frankfurt or Heathrow. When, however, the evidence regarding the clothing, the purchaser and the timer is taken with the evidence that an unaccompanied bag was taken from KM180 to PA103A, the inference that that was the primary suitcase becomes, in our view, irresistible. As we have also said, the absence of an explanation as to how the suitcase was taken into the system at Luqa is a major difficulty for the Crown case but after taking full account of that difficulty, we remain of the view that the primary suitcase began its journey at Luqa. The clear inference which we draw from this evidence is that the conception, planning and execution of the plot which led to the planting of the explosive device was of Libyan origin. While no doubt organisations such as the PFLP-GC and the PPSF were also engaged in terrorist activities during the same period, we are satisfied that there was no evidence from which we could infer that they were involved in this particular act of terrorism, and the evidence relating to their activities does not create a reasonable doubt in our minds about the Libyan origin of this crime."[63]


The defence team had 14 days in which to appeal against Megrahi's conviction on 31 January 2001, and a further six weeks to submit the full grounds of the appeal. These were considered by a judge sitting in private who decided to grant Megrahi leave to appeal. The only basis for an appeal under Scots law is that there has been a "miscarriage of justice" which is not defined in statute and so it is for the appeal court to determine the meaning of these words in each case.[64] Because three judges and one alternate judge had presided over the trial, five judges were required to preside over the Court of Criminal Appeal:

  • Lord Cullen, Lord Justice-General
  • Lord Kirkwood
  • Lord Osborne
  • Lord Macfadyen and
  • Lord Nimmo Smith

In what was described as a milestone in Scottish legal history, Lord Cullen granted the BBC permission in January 2002 to televise the appeal, and to broadcast it on the Internet in English with a simultaneous Arabic translation.

William Taylor QC, leading the defence, said at the appeal's opening on 23 January 2002 that the three trial judges sitting without a jury had failed to see the relevance of "significant" evidence and had accepted unreliable facts. He argued that the verdict was not one that a reasonable jury in an ordinary trial could have reached if it were given proper directions by the judge. The grounds of the appeal rested on two areas of evidence where the defence claimed the original court was mistaken: the evidence of Maltese shopkeeper, Tony Gauci, which the judges accepted as sufficient to prove that the "primary suitcase" started its journey in Malta; and, disputing the prosecution's case, fresh evidence would be adduced to show that the bomb's journey actually started at Heathrow. That evidence, which was not heard at the trial, showed that at some time in the two hours before 00:35 on 21 December 1988 a padlock had been forced on a secure door giving access airside in Terminal 3 of Heathrow airport, near to the area referred to at the trial as the "baggage build-up area". Taylor claimed that the PA 103 bomb could have been planted then.[65]

On 14 March 2002 it took Lord Cullen less than three minutes to deliver the decision of the High Court of Justiciary. The five judges rejected the appeal, ruling unanimously that "none of the grounds of appeal was well-founded", adding "this brings proceedings to an end". The following day, a helicopter took Megrahi from Camp Zeist to continue his life sentence in Barlinnie Prison, Glasgow.

SCCRC review

Megrahi's lawyers applied to the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) on 23 September 2003 to have his case referred back to the Court of Criminal Appeal for a fresh appeal against conviction. The application to the SCCRC followed the publication of two reports in February 2001 and March 2002 by Hans Köchler, who had been an international observer at Camp Zeist, Netherlands appointed by the Secretary-General of the United Nations. Köchler described the decisions of the trial and appeal courts as a "spectacular miscarriage of justice".[66] Köchler also issued a series of statements in 2003, 2005, and 2007 calling for an independent international inquiry into the case and accusing the West of "double standards in criminal justice" in relation to the Lockerbie trial on the one hand and the HIV trial in Libya on the other.[67][68][69]

On 28 June 2007 the SCCRC announced its decision to refer Megrahi's case to the High Court for a second appeal against conviction.[70] The SCCRC's decision was based on facts set out in an 800-page report that determined that "a miscarriage of justice may have occurred".[71] Köchler criticised the SCCRC for exonerating police, prosecutors and forensic staff from blame in respect of Megrahi's alleged wrongful conviction. He told The Herald of 29 June 2007: "No officials to be blamed, simply a Maltese shopkeeper."[72] Köchler also highlighted the role of intelligence services in the trial and stated that proper judicial proceedings could not be conducted under conditions in which extrajudicial forces are allowed to intervene.[73]

Second appeal

A procedural hearing at the Appeal Court took place on 11 October 2007 when prosecution lawyers and Megrahi's defence counsel, Maggie Scott QC, discussed a number of legal issues with a panel of three judges.[74] One of the issues concerned a number of documents that were shown before the trial to the prosecution, but were not disclosed to the defence. The documents are understood to relate to the Mebo MST-13 timer that allegedly detonated the PA103 bomb.[75] Maggie Scott also asked for documents relating to an alleged payment of $2 million made to Maltese merchant, Tony Gauci, for his testimony at the trial, which led to the conviction of Megrahi.[76]

On 15 October 2008, five Scottish judges decided unanimously to reject a submission by the Crown Office which sought to limit the scope of Megrahi's second appeal to the specific grounds of appeal that were identified by the SCCRC in June 2007.[77] In January 2009, it was reported that, although Megrahi's second appeal against conviction was scheduled to begin in April 2009, the hearing could last as long as 12 months because of the complexity of the case and volume of material to be examined.[78] The second appeal began on 28 April 2009, lasted for one month and was adjourned in May 2009. On 7 July 2009, the court reassembled for a procedural hearing and was told that because of the illness of one of the judges, Lord Wheatley, who was recovering from heart surgery, the final two substantive appeal sessions would run from 2 November to 11 December 2009, and 12 January to 26 February 2010. Megrahi's lawyer Maggie Scott expressed dismay at the delays: "There is a very serious danger that my client will die before the case is determined."[79]

Compassionate release and controversy

On 25 July 2009, Megrahi applied to be released from jail on compassionate grounds.[80] Three weeks later, on 12 August 2009, Megrahi applied to have his second appeal dropped and was reported to have been granted compassionate release on the basis that he had terminal prostate cancer.[81][82] On 20 August 2009, Megrahi was released from prison and travelled by chartered jet to Libya the same day.[83][84][85] His survival beyond the approximate "three month" prognosis generated some controversy. After hospital treatment ended, he returned to his family home. Following his release, Megrahi has published evidence on the Internet that was gathered for the abandoned second appeal which he claims will clear his name.[86]

Allegations have been made that the UK government and BP sought Al-Megrahi’s release as part of a trade deal with Libya. In 2008, the British government “decided to ‘do all it could’ to help the Libyans get Al-Megrahi home … and explained the legal procedure for compassionate release to the Libyans.”[87]

Megrahi was released on licence and is obliged to remain in regular contact with the East Renfrewshire Council. On 26 August 2011, it was announced that the whereabouts of Al-Megrahi were unknown due to the social upheaval in Libya and that he had not been in contact for some time.[88] However, it was reported on 29 August that he had been located and both the Scottish government and council issued a statement confirming that they had been in contact with his family and that his licence had not been breached. MP Andrew Mitchell said Al-Megrahi was comatose and near death. CNN reporter Nic Robertson said he was "just a shell of the man he once was" and was surviving on oxygen and an intravenous drip. In an interview on BBC Radio 5 Live, former US ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton called for Al-Megrahi to extradited.

"To me it will be a signal of how serious the rebel government is for good relations with the United States and the West if they hand over Megrahi for trial."

Mohammed al-Alagi, justice minister for the new leadership in Tripoli, said "the council would not allow any Libyan to be deported to face trial in another country ... Abdelbaset al-Megrahi has already been judged once, and will not be judged again."[89]

Alleged motive

Gulf of Sidra—Libya's territorial waters.

Until 2003 Libya had never formally admitted carrying out the 1988 Lockerbie bombing. On 16 August 2003 Libya formally admitted responsibility (but did not admit guilt) for Pan Am Flight 103 in a letter presented to the president of the United Nations Security Council. Felicity Barringer of The New York Times said that the letter had "general language that lacked any expression of remorse" for the people killed in the bombing.[90] The letter stated that it "accepted responsibility for the actions of its officials".[91]

The motive that is generally attributed to Libya can be traced back to a series of military confrontations with the US Navy that took place in the 1980s in the Gulf of Sidra, the whole of which Libya claimed as its territorial waters. First, there was the Gulf of Sidra incident (1981) when two Libyan fighter aircraft were shot down. Then, two Libyan radio ships were sunk in the Gulf of Sidra. Later, on 23 March 1986 a Libyan Navy patrol boat was sunk in the Gulf of Sidra,[92] followed by the sinking of another Libyan vessel on 25 March 1986.[93] The Libyan leader, Muammar Gaddafi, was accused of retaliating for these sinkings by ordering the 5 April 1986 bombing of West Berlin nightclub, La Belle, that was frequented by U.S. soldiers and which killed three and injured 230.[94]

The U.S. National Security Agency's (NSA) alleged interception of an incriminatory message from Libya to its embassy in East Berlin provided U.S. president Ronald Reagan with the justification for USAF warplanes to launch Operation El Dorado Canyon on 15 April 1986 from British bases[95][96] —the first U.S. military strikes from Britain since World War II—against Tripoli and Benghazi in Libya. The Libyan government claimed the air strikes killed Hanna, a baby girl Gaddafi claimed he adopted (her reported age has varied between 15 months and seven years).[97] To avenge his daughter's death, Gaddafi is said to have sponsored the September 1986 hijacking of Pan Am Flight 73 in Karachi, Pakistan.[98]

The U.S. in turn encouraged and aided the Chadian National Armed Forces (FANT) by supplying satellite intelligence during the Battle of Maaten al-Sarra. The attack resulted in a devastating defeat for Gaddafi's forces, following which he had to accede to a ceasefire ending the Chadian-Libyan conflict and his dreams of African dominance. Gaddafi blamed the defeat on French and U.S. "aggression against Libya".[99] The U.S. did not conceal its satisfaction over the Libyan defeat with an official stating that "We basically jump for joy every time the Chadians ding the Libyans".[citation needed] The result was Gaddafi's lingering animosity against the two countries which led to Libyan support for the bombings of Pan Am Flight 103 and UTA Flight 772.[100]

The 1973 shootdown of a Libyan airliner, Libyan Arab Airlines Flight 114, by Israel is not cited as a motive.

Compensation from Libya

On 29 May 2002, Libya offered up to US$2.7 billion to settle claims by the families of the 270 killed in the Lockerbie bombing, representing US$10 million per family. The Libyan offer was that:

  • 40% of the money would be released when United Nations sanctions, suspended in 1999, were cancelled;
  • another 40% when US trade sanctions were lifted; and
  • the final 20% when the US State Department removed Libya from its list of states sponsoring terrorism.

Jim Kreindler of New York law firm Kreindler & Kreindler, which orchestrated the settlement, said:

"These are uncharted waters. It is the first time that any of the states designated as sponsors of terrorism have offered compensation to families of terror victims."

The US State Department maintained that it was not directly involved. "Some families want cash, others say it is blood money," said a State Department official.

Compensation for the families of the PA103 victims was among the steps set by the UN for lifting its sanctions against Libya. Other requirements included a formal denunciation of terrorism—which Libya said it had already made—and "accepting responsibility for the actions of its officials".[101][102]

On 15 August 2003, Libya's UN ambassador, Ahmed Own, submitted a letter to the UN Security Council formally accepting "responsibility for the actions of its officials" in relation to the Lockerbie bombing.[103] The Libyan government then proceeded to pay compensation to each family of US$8 million (from which legal fees of about US$2.5 million were deducted) and, as a result, the UN cancelled the sanctions that had been suspended four years earlier, and US trade sanctions were lifted. A further US$2 million would have gone to each family had the US State Department removed Libya from its list of states regarded as supporting international terrorism, but as this did not happen by the deadline set by Libya, the Libyan Central Bank withdrew the remaining US$540 million in April 2005 from the escrow account in Switzerland through which the earlier US$2.16 billion compensation for the victims' families had been paid.[104] The United States announced resumption of full diplomatic relations with Libya after deciding to remove it from its list of countries that support terrorism on 15 May 2006.[105]

On 24 February 2004, Libyan Prime Minister Shukri Ghanem stated in a BBC Radio 4 interview that his country had paid the compensation as the "price for peace" and to secure the lifting of sanctions. Asked if Libya did not accept guilt, he said, "I agree with that." He also said there was no evidence to link Libya with the April 1984 shooting of police officer Yvonne Fletcher outside the Libyan Embassy in London. Gaddafi later retracted Ghanem's comments, under pressure from Washington and London.[106]

A civil action against Libya continued until 18 February 2005 on behalf of Pan Am and its insurers, which went bankrupt partly as a result of the attack. The airline was seeking $4.5 billion for the loss of the aircraft and the effect on the airline's business.[107]

In the wake of the SCCRC's June 2007 decision, there have been suggestions that, if Megrahi's second appeal had been successful and his conviction had been overturned, Libya could have sought to recover the $2.16 billion compensation paid to the relatives.[108] Interviewed by French newspaper Le Figaro on 7 December 2007, Saif al-Islam Gaddafi said that the seven Libyans convicted for the Pan Am Flight 103 and the UTA Flight 772 bombings "are innocent". When asked if Libya would therefore seek reimbursement of the compensation paid to the families of the victims (US$2.33 billion in total), Saif Gaddafi replied: "I don't know".[109]

Following discussions in London in May 2008, US and Libyan officials agreed to start negotiations to resolve all outstanding bilateral compensation claims, including those relating to UTA Flight 772, the 1986 Berlin discotheque bombing and Pan Am Flight 103.[110] On 14 August 2008, a US-Libya compensation deal was signed in Tripoli by US Assistant Secretary of State David Welch and Libya's Foreign Ministry head of America affairs, Ahmed al-Fatroui. The agreement covers 26 lawsuits filed by American citizens against Libya, and three by Libyan citizens in respect of the US bombing of Tripoli and Benghazi in April 1986 which killed at least 40 people and injured 220.[111] In October 2008 Libya paid $1.5 billion into a fund which will be used to compensate relatives of the

  1. Lockerbie bombing victims with the remaining 20% of the sum agreed in 2003;
  2. American victims of the 1986 Berlin discotheque bombing;
  3. American victims of the 1989 UTA Flight 772 bombing; and,
  4. Libyan victims of the 1986 US bombing of Tripoli and Benghazi.

As a result, President Bush signed Executive Order 13477 restoring the Libyan government's immunity from terror-related lawsuits and dismissing all of the pending compensation cases in the US, the White House said.[112] US State Department spokesman, Sean McCormack, called the move a "laudable milestone ... clearing the way for a continued and expanding US-Libyan partnership."[113]

In an interview shown in BBC Two's The Conspiracy Files: Lockerbie[114] on 31 August 2008, Saif Gaddafi said that Libya had admitted responsibility for the Lockerbie bombing simply to get trade sanctions removed. He went on to describe the families of the Lockerbie victims as very greedy: "They were asking for more money and more money and more money".[115] Several of the victims families refused to accept compensation due to their belief that Libya was not responsible.[116]

February 2011 In an interview with Swedish newspaper Expressen on 23 February 2011, Mustafa Abdul Jalil, former Justice Secretary of Libya, claimed to have evidence that Gaddafi personally ordered Al-Megrahi to carry out the bombing.[117]

Quotes: "[Jalil] told Expressen Khadafy [sic] gave the order to Abdel Baset al-Megrahi, the only man convicted in the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, which killed all 259 people on board and 11 on the ground on 21 Dec. 1988. 'To hide it, he (Khadafy) did everything in his power to get al-Megrahi back from Scotland,' Abdel-Jalil was quoted as saying."[118]

Al Jalil's commentary to the Expressen came during widespread political unrest and protests in Libya calling for the removal of Ghaddafi from power. The protests were part of a massive wave of unprecedented uprisings across the Arab world in: Tunisia, Morocco, Bahrain and Egypt, where Egyptian protesters effectively forced the removal of long-term ruler, Hosni Mubarak, from office. Jalil's comments came on a day when Ghaddafi's defiance and refusal to leave his command prompted his brutal attacks on Libyan protesters.

Abdel-Jalil stepped down as minister of justice in protest over the violence against anti-government demonstrations.[118]

Contingency fees for lawyers

On 5 December 2003, Jim Kreindler revealed that his Park Avenue law firm would receive an initial contingency fee of around US$1 million from each of the 128 American families Kreindler represents. The firm's fees could exceed US$300 million eventually. Kreindler argued that the fees were justified, since "Over the past seven years we have had a dedicated team working tirelessly on this and we deserve the contingency fee we have worked so hard for, and I think we have provided the relatives with value for money."[104]

Another top legal firm in the US, Speiser Krause, which represented 60 relatives, of whom half were UK families, concluded contingency deals securing them fees of between 28 and 35% of individual settlements. Frank Granito of Speiser Krause noted that "the rewards in the US are more substantial than anywhere else in the world but nobody has questioned the fee whilst the work has been going on, it is only now as we approach a resolution when the criticism comes your way."[119]

In March 2009, it was announced that US lobbying firm, Quinn Gillespie & Associates, received fees of $2 million for the work it did from 2006 through 2008 helping the PA103 relatives obtain payment by Libya of the final $2 million compensation (out of a total of $10 million) that was due to each family.[120]

Compensation from Pan Am

In 1992 a U.S. federal court found Pan Am guilty of wilful misconduct due to lax security screening. Alert Management Inc. and Pan American World Services, two subsidiaries of Pan Am, were also found guilty; Alert handled Pan Am's security at foreign airports.[121]

Lockerbie inquiry demands

Prior to the abandonment of Megrahi's second appeal against conviction and while new evidence could be still tested in court, there had been few calls for an independent inquiry into the Lockerbie bombing. Demands for such an inquiry have increased since, and become more insistent. On 2 September 2009, former MEP Michael McGowan demanded that the British Government call for an urgent, independent inquiry led by the UN to find out the truth about Pan Am flight 103. "We owe it to the families of the victims of Lockerbie and the international community to identify those responsible," McGowan said.[122] Two online petitions were started: one calling for a UK public inquiry into the Lockerbie bombing;[123] the other a UN inquiry into the murder of UN Commissioner for Namibia, Bernt Carlsson, in the 1988 Lockerbie bombing.[124] In September 2009, a third petition which was addressed to the President of the United Nations General Assembly demanded that the UN should "institute a full public inquiry" into the Lockerbie disaster.[125] On 3 October 2009, Malta was asked to table a UN resolution supporting the petition, which was signed by 20 people including the families of the Lockerbie victims, authors, journalists, professors, politicians and parliamentarians, as well as Archbishop Desmond Tutu. The signatories considered that a UN inquiry could help remove "many of the deep misgivings which persist in lingering over this tragedy" and could also eliminate Malta from this terrorist act. Malta was brought into the case because the prosecution argued that the two accused Libyans, Abdelbaset al-Megrahi and Lamin Khalifah Fhimah, had placed the bomb on an Air Malta aircraft before it was transferred at Frankfurt airport to a feeder flight destined for London's Heathrow airport, from which Pan Am Flight 103 departed. The Maltese government responded saying that the demand for a UN inquiry was "an interesting development that would be deeply considered, although there were complex issues surrounding the event."[126]

On 24 August 2009, Lockerbie campaigner Dr Jim Swire wrote to Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, calling for a full inquiry, including the question of suppression of the Heathrow evidence. This was backed up by a delegation of Lockerbie relatives, led by Pamela Dix, who went to 10 Downing Street on 24 October 2009 and handed over a letter addressed to Gordon Brown calling for a meeting with the Prime Minister to discuss the need for a public inquiry and the main issues that it should address.[127] An op-ed article by Pamela Dix, subtitled "The families of those killed in the bombing have not given up hope of an inquiry to help us learn the lessons of this tragedy", was published in The Guardian on 26 October 2009.[128] On 1 November 2009, it was reported that Gordon Brown had ruled out a public inquiry into Lockerbie, saying in response to Dr Swire's letter: "I understand your desire to understand the events surrounding the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 but I do not think it would be appropriate for the UK government to open an inquiry of this sort." UK ministers explained that it was for the Scottish government to decide if it wants to hold its own, more limited, inquiry into the worst terrorist attack on British soil. The Holyrood government had already rejected an independent inquiry, saying it lacks the constitutional power to examine the international dimensions of the case.[129]

Concluding his extensive reply dated 27 October 2009 to the Prime Minister, Dr Swire said: "You have now received a much more comprehensive letter requesting a full inquiry from our group 'UK Families-Flight 103'. I am one of the signatories. I hope that the contents of this letter underline some of the reasons as to why I cannot possibly accept that any inquiry should be limited to Scotland, and I apologise if my previous personal letter of 24 August misled you over the main focus that the inquiry will need to address. That focus lies in London and at the door of the then inhabitant of Number 10 Downing Street. I look forward to hearing your comments both to our group's letter and to the contents of this one."[130]

Alternative theories

Based on a 1995 investigation by journalists Paul Foot and John Ashton, a number of alternate explanations of the plot to commit the Lockerbie bombing were listed by The Guardian's Patrick Barkham in 1999.[131] Following the Lockerbie verdict in 2001 and the appeal in 2002, attempts have been made to re-open the case amid allegations that Libya was framed. One theory suggests the bomb on the plane was detonated by radio. Another theory suggests the CIA prevented the suitcase containing the bomb from being searched. Iran's involvement is alleged, either in association with a Palestine militant group, or that it was involved in loading the bomb while the plane was at Heathrow. The US Defense Intelligence Agency alleges that Ali Akbar Mohtashamipur (Ayatollah Mohtashemi), a member of the Iranian government, paid US$ 10 million for the bombing:

Ayatollah Mohtashemi: (...) and was the one who paid the same amount to bomb Pan Am Flight 103 in retaliation for the US shoot-down of the Iranian Airbus.[132]

Other theories implicate Libya and Abu Nidal, and apartheid South Africa.

Alleged mastermind

On 23 February 2011, amidst the 2011 Libyan civil war, Mustafa Abdul Jalil, former Libyan Justice Minister (and later member and Chairman of the anti Gaddafi National Transitional Council), alleged that he had proof that Libyan leader, Muammar Gaddafi, had personally ordered Abdelbaset al-Megrahi to carry the bomb on to flight 103.[117][133]

Epilogue from PCAST

On 29 September 1989, President Bush appointed Ann McLaughlin Korologos, former Secretary of Labor, to chair the President's Commission on Aviation Security and Terrorism (PCAST) to review and report on aviation security policy in the light of the sabotage of flight PA103. Oliver "Buck" Revell, the FBI's Executive Assistant Director, was assigned to advise and assist PCAST in their task.[134] Mrs Korologos and the PCAST team (Senator Alfonse D'Amato, Senator Frank Lautenberg, Representative John Paul Hammerschmidt, Representative James Oberstar, General Thomas Richards, deputy commander of U.S. forces in West Germany, and Edward Hidalgo, former Secretary of the U.S. Navy) submitted their report, with its 64 recommendations, on 15 May 1990. The PCAST team leader also handed a sealed envelope to the President which was widely believed to apportion blame for the PA103 bombing. Extensively covered in The Guardian the next day, the PCAST report concluded:

"National will and the moral courage to exercise it are the ultimate means of defeating terrorism. The Commission recommends a more vigorous policy that not only pursues and punishes terrorists, but also makes state sponsors of terrorism pay a price for their actions."

Before submitting their report, the PCAST members met a group of British PA103 relatives at the U.S. embassy in London on 12 February 1990. One of the British relatives, Martin Cadman, alleges that a member of President Bush's staff told him: "Your government and ours know exactly what happened but they are never going to tell."[135] The statement first came to public attention in the 1994 documentary film The Maltese Double Cross – Lockerbie and was published in both The Guardian of 12 November 1994, and a special report from Private Eye magazine entitled Lockerbie, the flight from justice May/June 2001.

Memorials and tributes

Memorial at Dryfesdale Cemetery.
Syracuse University's memorial in Syracuse, New York.

There are a number of private and public memorials to the PA103 victims. Dark Elegy is the work of sculptor Susan Lowenstein of Long Island, whose son Alexander, then 21, was a passenger on the flight. The work consists of 43 nude statues of the wives and mothers who lost a husband or a child. Inside each sculpture there is a personal memento of the victim.[136]

United States

The then US President Bill Clinton dedicated a Memorial Cairn to the victims at Arlington National Cemetery on 3 November 1995,[137] and there are similar memorials at Syracuse University; Dryfesdale Cemetery, near Lockerbie; and in Sherwood Crescent, Lockerbie.[138]

Syracuse University holds a memorial week every year called "Remembrance Week" to commemorate its 35 lost students. Every 21 December, a service is held in the university's chapel at 14:03 (19:03 UTC), marking the moment the aircraft exploded.[139] The university also awards university tuition fees to two students from Lockerbie Academy each year, in the form of its Lockerbie scholarship. In addition, the university annually awards 35 scholarships to seniors to honor each of the 35 students killed.[140] The Remembrance Scholarships are among the highest honors a Syracuse undergraduate can receive. SUNY Oswego also gives out scholarships in memorial of Colleen Brunner to a student who is studying abroad.[141] A local sorority at SUNY Oswego also gives out an award every spring to a Junior who best represents the way Colleen was because she is a sister of Alpha Sigma Chi.[142] Hamburg High School, her alma mater, also gives out a scholarship to a deserving senior. There is also a children's playground in a New York elementary school donated by the family of one of the victims.

Camp Dudley, YMCA in Westport, New York, has a bridge on its campus dedicated to its alumni who perished in the attack.


The main UK memorial is at Dryfesdale Cemetery about a mile west of Lockerbie.[143] There is a semicircular stone wall in the garden of remembrance with the names and nationalities of all the victims along with individual funeral stones and memorials. Inside the chapel at Dryfesdale there is a book of remembrance. There are memorials in Lockerbie and Moffat Roman Catholic churches, where plaques list the names of all 270 victims. In Lockerbie Town Hall Council Chambers, there is a stained-glass window depicting flags of the 21 different countries whose citizens lost their lives in the disaster. There is also a book of remembrance at Lockerbie public library and another at Tundergarth Church.[144]

Benefit game

A charity football match was arranged for the benefit of the disaster appeal fund. The game took place at Palmerston Park, the ground of Queen of the South, the nearest senior football club to Lockerbie, based 12 miles (19 km) away in Dumfries. Opposition was provided by Manchester United and managed by Alex Ferguson. The game took place on 1 March 1989. QoS had a number of guest players in their side as reflected in the their scorers including goals by Roy Aitken and Fraser Wishart. Mark McGhee was another guest player for Queens. The final score was 6–3 to Manchester United and is the only time the two clubs have played against each other.[145]

Depictions in media

  • A docu-drama made by Granada Television for the United Kingdom ITV network, Why Lockerbie?, depicts the events leading to the bombing, and was first screened on 26 November 1990. It was screened in the United States by HBO on 9 December 1990 as The Tragedy of Flight 103: The Inside Story.[146]
  • Aftermath depicted in the stage play The Women of Lockerbie by Deborah Brevoort was awarded the silver medal in the Onassis International Playwriting Competition in 2001.[147]
  • Daniel and Susan Cohen, parents of Theodora "Theo" Cohen, wrote the book Pan Am 103.[148]
  • The story of the disaster was featured on the seventh season of Canadian Discovery Channel show Mayday (known as Air Emergency in the US, Mayday in Ireland and Air Crash Investigation in the UK and the rest of world). The episode is entitled "Lockerbie".
  • Lockerbie: Unfinished Business, a play for one actor (playing Dr Swire) had its debut at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2010.[149]

In 2010 Nottingham Playhouse in the UK staged a play by Michael Eaton, about the release of Al-Megrahi from the viewpoint of the victims' families, entitled The Families of Lockerbie.[150]

Wreckage in scrapyard

The remaining wreckage of the Boeing jumbo jet is stored about a mile from Tattershall, Lincolnshire, at Roger Windley's scrapyard, pending the conclusion of the American victims' civil case. (53°7′19.35″N 0°12′58.09″W / 53.1220417°N 0.2161361°W / 53.1220417; -0.2161361 (Windley's Scrapyard))[151] The remains include the nose section of the Boeing 747, which is largely intact but was cut into several pieces to assist in removal from Tundergarth Hill.[152]

See also

Notes and references

  1. ^
  2. ^ "Clipper Maid of the Seas: Remembering those on flight 103". 2007. Retrieved 8 June 2008. 
  3. ^ a b "Jet That Crashed Was an Early 747". San Francisco Chronicle. Associated Press: p. A6. 22 December 1988. "The jumbo jet that Scotland was the 15th 747 built...The Pan Am 747-100...was delivered to Pan American in February 1970. The first 747 ever delivered to an airline–also Pan Am–entered the fleet the previous month, said David Jimenez, spokesman for Boeing Commercial Airplanes, which builds 747s in Everett." 
  4. ^ Cody, Edward (22 December 1988). "Pan Am Jet Crashes in Scotland, Killing at Least 273". The Washington Post: p. A1. Retrieved 21 May 2010. 
  5. ^ Cross, David; De Ionno, Peter (22 December 1988). "Doomed plane 'well inside its service limit'". Times of London. 
  6. ^ "Lockerbie Accident Investigation". Retrieved 5 June 2010. 
  7. ^ a b c d Cox, Matthew, and Foster, Tom. (1992) Their Darkest Day: The Tragedy of Pan Am 103, ISBN 67.
  8. ^ "AAIB report on the accident to Boeing 747–121, N739PA at Lockerbie, Dumfriesshire, Scotland on 21 December 1988" (PDF). 
  9. ^ Black, Ian (4 May 2000). "Court told how jet's radar blip broke up at 7.02 pm". The Guardian (UK).,2763,216917,00.html. Retrieved 8 September 2008. 
  10. ^ Cox, Matthew, and Foster, Tom. (1992) Their Darkest Day: The Tragedy of Pan Am 103, ISBN 0-8021-1382-6 p110
  11. ^ ibid Cox and Foster p71
  12. ^ Cox, Matthew, and Foster, Tom. (1992) Their Darkest Day: The Tragedy of Pan Am 103, ISBN 0-8021-1382-6 p69
  13. ^ Cox, Matthew, and Foster, Tom. (1992) Their Darkest Day: The Tragedy of Pan Am 103, ISBN 0-8021-1382-6 p70
  14. ^ Cox, Matthew, and Foster, Tom. (1992) Their Darkest Day: The Tragedy of Pan Am 103, ISBN 0-8021-1382-6 p71
  15. ^ Cox, Matthew, and Foster, Tom. (1992) Their Darkest Day: The Tragedy of Pan Am 103, ISBN 0-8021-1382-6 p77
  16. ^ "Lockerbie". BBC News. 31 January 1999. Retrieved 17 September 2009. 
  17. ^ "Aviation Safety website". 
  18. ^ "AAIB report on the accident to Boeing 747–121, N739PA at Lockerbie, Dumfriesshire, Scotland on 21 December 1988" (PDF).  Par 2.10
  19. ^ "Victims of Pan Am 103". Retrieved 4 June 2011. 
  20. ^ "AAIB report on the accident to Boeing 747–121, N739PA at Lockerbie, Dumfriesshire, Scotland on 21 December 1988" (PDF).  Par
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  30. ^ Sheridan, Geraldine; Kenning, Thomas (1993). Survivors: Lockerbie. Pan Books. ISBN 0-330-32853-0
  31. ^ Cassel, Andrew (21 December 1998). Reporter's Reflections. BBC News.
  32. ^ Smith, Guy (29 August 2008). "'I missed the Lockerbie flight by minutes'". BBC News. Retrieved 5 April 2009. 
  33. ^ "Silver State News Service: Lockerbie Anniversary". Silver State News. 
  34. ^ "'The Frost Blog: Lockerbie Tragedy". The Frost Blog. 
  35. ^ "PiL Warrior 7" Discography". Fodderstompf. 
  36. ^ Clarey, Christopher (9 April 2004). "In the Arena : Wilander embraces the low-ego role of captain". The New York Times. 
  37. ^ "Kim Cattrall – Cattrall's Plane Crash Near Escape". 19 June 2007. 
  38. ^ Roberts, Alison (2 January 2002). "Kim, Samantha and Sex and the City". London Evening Standard. Retrieved 22 April 2011. 
  39. ^ Report of the President's Commission on Aviation Security and Terrorism.
  40. ^ The Independent, 29 March 1990
  41. ^ Prime Time Live, November 1989
  42. ^ Elliott, Harvey; Sapsted, David (22 December 1988). "Bomb fear in UK's worst air disaster". The Times (London). Retrieved 31 October 2009. 
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Further reading [23 Feb 2011]

  • Cohen, Dan and Susan (2000). Pan Am 103: the Bombing, the Betrayals, and a Bereaved Family's Search for Justice. ISBN 0-451-20270-8. 
  • Dornstein, Ken (2006). The Boy Who Fell Out of the Sky. ISBN 0-375-50359-5. 
  • Leppard, David (1992). On the Trail of Terror. 
  • Marquise, Richard A. (2006). Scotbom: Evidence and the Lockerbie Investigation. ISBN 978-0-87586-449-5. 
  • Report of the President's Commission on Aviation Security and Terrorism. U.S. Government Printing Office. 15 May 1990. 

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