Lockerbie Air Disaster

The Lockerbie air disaster, known as the Lockerbie Bombing, which occurred in the skies over Lockerbie, Scotland in December 21, 1988, was the world’s largest criminal aviation investigation in history until the World Trade Centre disaster of 2001. Pan Am Flight 103 was the third scheduled flight of Pan American World Airways on that date, taking off from Heathrow International Airport on a Trans-Atlantic flight to John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City.

The aircraft for the flight was a Boeing 747-100 that was named the Clipper Maid of the Seas. It landed at Heathrow airport from San Francisco and parked at stand K-14, terminal 3. It was guarded for two hours by the security team of Pan American Airways. The flight from London to New York originated in Frankfurt, Germany by means of a feeder flight from which 49 passengers transferred to Flight 103 at Heathrow.

There were 243 passengers and 16 crew members on Flight 103. It was scheduled for departure at 1800 hours. The passengers boarded the plane and it pushed out from the gate at 1814 hours. There was a backlog of traffic that day at Heathrow, which caused a delay of about ten minutes. The pilot took the plane on a route northwest of London and then steered due north toward Scotland. As the aircraft approached the Scottish border at 1856 hours, it was cruising at an altitude of 31,000 feet. Contact was made from the Prestwick Tower to give clearance to the aircraft to proceed with its trans-Atlantic flight. The words of the First Officer to the control tower were the last to be heard from the plane.

The controller in Prestwick watched the aircraft approach and cross the northern coast at 1902 hours. Then it disappeared from his radar screen and all his attempts to contact the place were in vain. Instead of one signal on his radar, he now had four and then returns started to fan out over the screen. The wing section of the plane hit the ground at Lockerbie, Scotland landing on two homes killing the families inside.

When the bomb on board the plane exploded, it caused a wide hole in the fuselage and the rapid disintegration of the aircraft. The police found the black box in a nearby field about 24 hours after the crash. Investigators determined from the positions of the flight crew in the cabin that they had no indication of a problem and that they had not started any emergency procedures. They determined that the cockpit, fuselage and the No.3 engine fell separately within 3 seconds of the explosion.

Several groups claimed responsibility for the bombing of Flight 103. However, on December 5, the FAA had issued an alert saying that they had been informed by telephone by a man speaking with an Arabic accent that a flight from Frankfurt to the US would be blown up by a bomb. Investigators concluded that an unaccompanied bag had been loaded into the luggage area and this bag contained the bomb. The fragments of the bag were traced to a Maltese merchant who identified them as having been purchased by a Libyan man, Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi. An accomplice, Lamin Khalifah Fhimah was also arrested. In the ensuing trail, Al-Megrahi was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment, but Fhimah was found to be innocent of the crime.

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