Pan Am Lockerbie bombing

Lockerbie disaster memorial (Lockerbie cemetery)
Lockerbie disaster memorial (Lockerbie cemetery)
Pan Am Flight 103, also commonly referred to as the Lockerbie bombing, was the bombing of a Pan Am transatlantic flight from London Heathrow Airport to New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport on Wednesday, 21 December 1988. A Boeing 747–121, named Clipper Maid of the Seas, was destroyed by an explosive device killing all 243 passengers and 16 crew members.[2] Large sections of the plane crashed into Lockerbie, in southern Scotland, killing an additional 11 people on the ground.
English: The plane with Abdelbaset Ali al-Megr...
Following a three-year joint investigation by Scottish police and the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, murder warrants were issued for two Libyannationals in November 1991. Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi eventually handed over the two men for trial at Camp Zeist, Netherlands in 1999 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.
In 2003 Gaddafi admitted Libya’s responsibility for the Lockerbie bombing and paid compensation to the victims’ families though he maintained he never personally gave the order for the attack.[3] During the Libyan civil war in 2011, a former government official contradicted Gaddafi claiming the Libyan leader had personally ordered the bombing.[3] Despite these assertions, 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.[4] The jumbo jet was the fifteenth 747 built and was delivered in February 1970,[5][6] one month after the first 747 entered service with Pan Am.[5][7] In 1988 it had undergone a complete overhaul.

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. 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 lifted off at 18:25 en route for JFK.

Contact is lost

The Clipper Maid of the Seas “squawk” then flickered off. Air Traffic Control tried to make contact with the flight, with no response. Where there should have been one radar echo on screen, there were five, fanning out.[8][9] 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.[10] A British Airways pilot, flying the Glasgow–London shuttle nearCarlisle, called Scottish authorities to report that he could see a huge fire on the ground; ATC screens were now full of returns moving eastward with the wind.[11]

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. Investigators from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) concluded that no emergency procedures had been started in the cockpit.[12] 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.[13]
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.[14] 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. Shock waves compounded as they traveled throughout the aircraft, knocking out the power.

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.[15]
As it descended, the fuselage broke into smaller pieces, with the section attached to the wings landing first (46.5 seconds after the explosion)[16] in Sherwood Crescent, Lockerbie, where the 200,000 lb (91,000 kg) of kerosene contained inside ignited. The resultant fireball destroyed several houses.
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[9][page needed]; there was no evidence of the wings found outside the crater itself.[17] The British Geological Survey at nearby Eskdalemuir registered a seismic event measuring 1.6 on the Richter scale, which was attributed to the impact.
Another section of the fuselage landed about one half-mile northeast, where it slammed into a home in Park Place. The house was demolished, but the householder escaped.

Trial, appeals and release

On 3 May 2000, the trial of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi and Lamin Khalifah Fhimah began. Megrahi was convicted of murder on 31 January 2001, and was sentenced to life imprisonment in Scotland; his co-defendant, 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, and an additional 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 Scot 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 theCourt of Criminal Appeal:
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