Pan Am Flight 103

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Pan Am Flight 103 (involved in the Lockerbie bombing) was a regularly scheduled Pan Am transatlantic flight from Frankfurt Airport to Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport via London Heathrow Airport and New York-JFK that was destroyed by a terrorist bomb on Wednesday, 21 December 1988, killing all 243 passengers and 16 crew on board. Large sections of the aircraft crashed into Lockerbie, Scotland, killing 11 more people on the ground.

Following a three-year joint investigation by Dumfries and Galloway Constabulary and the US Federal Bureau of Investigation, arrest warrants were issued for two Libyan nationals in November 1991. In 1999, Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi handed over the two men for trial at Camp Zeist, Netherlands after protracted negotiations and UN sanctions. In 2001, Libyan intelligence officer Abdelbaset al-Megrahi was jailed for the bombing. In August 2009, he was released by the Scottish Government on compassionate grounds after being diagnosed with prostate cancer. He died in May 2012, remaining the only person to be convicted for the attack. He had continually protested his innocence.

In 2003, 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. During the Libyan Civil War, in 2011, a former government official claimed that the Libyan leader had personally ordered the bombing. Numerous conspiracy theories have developed regarding responsibility for the destruction of Pan Am Flight 103.


The aircraft operating Pan Am Flight 103 was N739PA, a Boeing 747-121 named Clipper Maid of the Seas, formerly named Clipper Morning Light prior to 1979. The jumbo jet was the 15th 747 built and was delivered in February 1970, one month after the first 747 entered service with Pan Am.

At the time of its destruction, the aircraft was 18 years old and had accumulated over 75,000 flying hours. In 1987, it had undergone a complete overhaul because it belonged to the civil reserve fleet of aircraft and this aircraft was retrofitted so that it could, in a national emergency, be turned into a freight aircraft within two days' work, according to the Los Angeles Times. Its maintenance records reveal a history of metal fatigue, rust and a fire on board. There were 24 noteworthy records listed in the files as occurring between 1980 and 1988.

The flight

The Clipper Maid of the Seas operated the transatlantic leg of Flight 103, which had originated in Frankfurt, West Germany, on a Boeing 727. Both Pan Am and TWA had the habit of operating different flights under the same flight number. PA103 was bookable as a direct Frankfurt-New York itinerary, though a scheduled change of aircraft took place in London. At London Heathrow, passengers and their luggage on the feeder flight transferred directly onto the Boeing 747, along with unaccompanied interline luggage. The aircraft pushed back from the terminal at 18:04 and took off from runway 27R at 18:25 en route for New York JFK.

Explosion and impact

The Clipper Maid of the Seas approached the corner of the Solway Firth at 19:01 and crossed the coast at 19:02 UTC. On scope, the aircraft showed transponder code, or "squawk," 0357 and flight level 310. At this point, the 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. Subsequent analysis of the radar returns by RSRE concluded that the aircraft was tracking 321° (grid) and travelling at a ground speed of 803 km/h (499 mph; 434 knots).

Contact is lost

At 18:58, the aircraft established two-way radio contact with Shanwick Oceanic Area Control in Prestwick on frequency 123.95 MHz. At 19:02:44, 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. At this time a loud sound was recorded on the cockpit voice recorder (CVR) at 19:02:50. Five radar echoes fanning out appeared, instead of one. Comparison of the cockpit voice recorder to the radar returns showed that, eight seconds after the explosion, the wreckage had a 1-nautical-mile (1.9 km) spread. A British Airways pilot, flying the Glasgow–London shuttle near Carlisle, called Scottish authorities to report that he could see a huge fire on the ground.

Disintegration of aircraft

The explosion punched a 20-inch (0.51 m)-wide hole on the left side of the fuselage. Investigators from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) concluded that no emergency procedures had been started in the cockpit. The cockpit voice recorder, located in the tail section of the aircraft, was found in a field by police searchers within 24 hours. 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. Although the explosion was in the aircraft hold, the effect was magnified by the large difference in pressure between the aircraft's interior and exterior. The steering cables disrupted, 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. 3 engine and landing some distance from Lockerbie, near Tundergarth church.

Fuselage impact

The fuselage continued moving forward and down until it reached 19,000 ft (5,800 m), at which point its dive became nearly vertical. As it descended, the fuselage broke up into smaller pieces, with the section attached to the wings landing first in Sherwood Crescent, Lockerbie, where the 200,000 lb (91,000 kg) of jet fuel contained inside ignited. The resulting fireball destroyed several houses and tore a large crater through the center of Lockerbie.

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; there was no evidence of the wings found outside the crater itself. The British Geological Survey at nearby Eskdalemuir registered a seismic event at 19:03:36 measuring 1.6 on the Richter scale, which was attributed to the impact.

Another section of the fuselage landed about 2.4 kilometres (1.5 mi) northeast, where it slammed into a home in Park Place. Despite the house being completely demolished, its occupant escaped uninjured.


Passengers and crew

All 243 passengers and 16 crew members were killed, as were eleven residents in Lockerbie. Of the 270 total fatalities, 189 were American citizens and 43 were British citizens. No more than 4 of the remaining 37 victims of the bombing came from any one of the 19 other countries. With 189 Americans killed, the bombing was the deadliest act of terror against the U.S. prior to 11 September 2001. Many of the passengers came from the states of New Jersey and New York.

Flight 103 was under the command of Captain James Bruce MacQuarrie (55), an experienced pilot with almost 11,000 flight hours, of which more than 4,000 had been accrued in 747 aircraft. The first officer was Raymond Ronald "Ray" Wagner (52). He had approximately 5,500 flight hours in the 747 and a total of almost 12,000 hours. The flight engineer was Jerry Don Avritt (46). He had more than 8,000 hours of flying experience. The cabin crew consisted of pursers Mary Geraldine Murphy (51), Milutin Velimirovich (35) and flight attendants Siv Ulla Engstrom (51), Elisabeth Nichole Avoyne-Clemens (44), Noelle Lydie Campbell-Berti (41), Elke Etha Kühne (43), Maria Nieves Larracoechea (39), Irja Shynove Skabo (38), Paul Isaac Garrett (41), Lilibeth Tobila Macalolooy (27), Jocelyn Reina (26), Myra Josephine Royal (30) and Stacie Denise Franklin (20).

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 a field by a tiny church in the village of Tundergarth. The inquest heard that a flight attendant was found alive by a farmer's wife, but died before her discoverer could summon help. Two other passengers remained alive briefly after impact; medical authorities later concluded that one of these passengers might have survived if he had been found soon enough.

The flight deck crew was New York/JFK based, and the cabin crew was based at London Heathrow. Places of birth or nationality included: three from the US, two from France, and one each from Sweden, West Germany, Spain, the Philippines, the United Kingdom, the Dominican Republic, Norway, and Czechoslovakia. Many of these crewmembers had become naturalised US citizens while working for Pan Am. Some of them resided in the London area, while others commuted to Heathrow to report for their flight assignments from several European and US cities.

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.

Notable passengers

Prominent among the passenger victims was the 50-year-old UN Commissioner for Namibia, Bernt Carlsson, who would have attended the signing ceremony of the New York Accords at the UN headquarters on 22 December 1988. 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 West Germany; musician Paul Jeffreys and his wife Rachel; poet and former girlfriend of musician Robert Fripp, Joanna Walton, credited with writing most of the lyrics on Fripp's 1979 album Exposure; Jonathan White, the son of actor David White, who played Larry Tate on the American 1960s sitcom Bewitched; and Alfred Hill, a promising young physicist. Also on board was Irving Sigal, the senior director of molecular biology at the Merck Sharp & Dohme Research Laboratories in Rahway, New Jersey.

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 conspiracy theories, in which one or more of them were said to have been targeted.

Matthew Gannon, the CIA's deputy station chief in Beirut, Lebanon, was sitting in Clipper Class, Pan Am's version of business class, seat 14J. Major Chuck "Tiny" McKee, an army officer on secondment to the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) in Beirut, sat behind Gannon in the centre 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; 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 from Cyprus that morning.

Lockerbie residents

Eleven Lockerbie residents were killed on the ground 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). The house was completely destroyed, and its occupants, Dora and Maurice Henry, were killed. 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 Lyndsey, 10, died when their house at 15 Sherwood Crescent exploded.

Kathleen Flannigan, 41, her husband Thomas, 44, and their daughter Joanne, 10, were killed by the explosion in their house at 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. Their oldest son, David, was living in Blackpool at the time. David died in 1993 and Steven in 2000.

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 Dora and Maurice Henry at approximately 7 pm that evening, when the plane destroyed their home; there was nothing left of their bodies to bury. Keegans' house at 1 Sherwood Crescent was the only one that was neither destroyed by the impact nor gutted by fire.

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 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 Scottish 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.


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    Name Born / Since / At Died Languages
    1Muammar Muhammad Abu Minyar al-GaddafiMuammar Muhammad Abu Minyar al-Gaddafi07.06.194220.10.2011en, lv, ru