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Lockerbie: 32 years on and still raising questions

Memorial at Lockerbie Cemetery

Memorial at Lockerbie Cemetery

32 years today at 19:02 local time Pan Am Boeing 747 crashed into the small Scottish borders town of Lockerbie killing 270 people. This was no accident though and even today questions are still being asked about who really brought down Flight 103.

The aircraft, Boeing 747-100 N739PA “Clipper Maid of the Seas” departed London’s Heathrow Airport (LHR/EGLL )at 18:35L for its transatlantic flight to New York’s JFK airport (JFK/KJFK).

As it climbed out across England it reached its cruising altitude of 31,000ft just south of the Scottish border.

The last contact with the aircraft was on the radar at 19:02L where it showed at FL310 (31,000ft) on a heading 316°(m). It was at this time when a bomb exploded in the cargo hold blowing a 20″ hole in the front left of the aircraft fuselage.

Due to the explosion happening in a pressurised environment the effects of the bomb were enhanced and just 8 seconds after the explosion the aircraft was in a flying debris field over a mile wide.

Pan Am 103 Cockpit

The aircraft itself broke into four main sections. the nose and forward cabin of the aircraft sheared off and remained largely intact until it hit the ground Tundergarth Hill just outside the town of Lockerbie.

The tail section broke off and disintegrated and caused what was known as the southern wreckage trail. The section between the tail and wing box cause the northern weckage trail. These stretched almost to the east coast of England.

The central wingbox section and fuselage was the deadliest for the town of Lockerbie. The fuselage to the rear wingbox containing three of the main landing gear units landed on houses in Rosebank Crescent causingmassive damage.

The wingbox and wings, containing most of the aircraft’s fuel, landed on Sherwood Crescent. On impact, it exploded vaporising houses in a large impact crater and killing 11 people.

All 259 people onboard the aircraft were killed as well as the 11 lockerbie residents.

Sherwood Cresent

More Questions than Answers

Many people suspected that the atrocity was carried out by Iran in a revenge attack for the shooting down of an Iranian airliner early in the same year but after years of investigation charges were laid against two Libyan men who were members of Libyan Intelligence.

The trial of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi and Lamin Khalifah Fhimah began 2000 with both men protesting their innocence.

Fhimah was acquitted in 2001 but al-Megrahi was found guilty of the murder of 270 people and sentenced to life imprisonment with a minimum term of 27 years.

The Bomb Damage reconstructed by the AAIB

In the period following his conviction al-Megrahi continued to claim he was innocent and a series of independent investigations raised serious questions over the safety of the conviction and even the evidence used to convict him.

In 2007 Information obtained for review made by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) saw the matter referred to the high court after it discovered serious issues with the safety of the conviction including withheld evidence.

Al-Megrahi was released in 2009 on compassionate ground after he had been diagnosed with terminal prostate cancer. As a result, his 2nd appeal was withdrawn.

He died in 2012.

Appeal by al-Megrahi Family

The SCCRC has now said that the al-Megrahi family may launch a posthumous appeal based on the evidence in its report which showed that a miscarriage of justice may have occurred.

Al-Megrahi has also had the backing and support of many of the families of the victims of Pan Am 103, particularly Dr Jim Swire whose daughter Flora was onboard the plane.

A panel of five judges at Edinburgh’s High Court is currently considering the appeal and is expected to reveal its findings soon.

Broken passenger seats from Pan Am 103

If they rule that a miscarriage of justice did occur it could lead to some very awkward questions, particularly for the likes of former FBI Director Robert Mueller, who masterminded the case against Libya.

The Human Factor

Whatever the outcome of that appeal though, it is most poignant today to remember the 270 people who were murdered when terrorists blew up Pan Am 103.

Pan Am 103 Flight Crew

Flora Swire, daughter of Dr Jim Swire, was killed onboard Pan Am 103

Pan Am 103 Passengers

Lockerbie Residents

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