21 December 2007

A Sad Day for Lockerbie, Scotland in 1988

Pan Am Flight 103 Explodes (1988)

After a three-year investigation, US and UK authorities announced indictments against two Libyan intelligence officials in connection with the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland—an attack that killed 270 people. During a trial held a decade later in the Netherlands, one of the defendants was found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment.
Criminal inquiry

Known as the Lockerbie bombing and the Lockerbie air disaster in the UK, it became the subject of Britain's largest criminal inquiry, led by its smallest police force, Dumfries and Galloway Constabulary. The bombing was widely regarded as an assault on a symbol of the United States, and with 189 of the victims being Americans, it stood as the deadliest terrorist attack against the United States until the September 11, 2001 attacks.

After a three-year joint investigation by the 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 November 13, 1991, against Abdel Basset Ali 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. United Nations sanctions against Libya and protracted negotiations with the Libyan leader Colonel Muammar al-Gaddafi secured the handover of the accused on April 5, 1999 to Scottish police at Camp Zeist, Netherlands, chosen as a neutral venue. On January 31, 2001, Megrahi was convicted of murder by a panel of three Scottish judges, and sentenced to 27 years in prison. Fhimah was acquitted. Megrahi's appeal against his conviction was refused on March 14, 2002, and his application to the European Court of Human Rights was declared inadmissible in July 2003. On September 23, 2003, Megrahi applied to the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) for his conviction to be reviewed, and for his case to be referred back to the High Court for a fresh appeal. On June 28, 2007, the SCCRC announced[2] its decision to refer the case to the Court of Criminal Appeal after it found he "may have suffered a miscarriage of justice". Megrahi is serving his sentence in Greenock Prison, where he continues to profess his innocence.

Flight plan
Pan Am Flight 103 was a
Boeing 747-100 named Clipper Maid of the Seas. The fifteenth jumbo jet ever built, it was delivered in February 1970,[3] one month after the very first 747 had entered service with Pan Am. On December 21, 1988, Clipper Maid of the Seas touched down at London's Heathrow International Airport at noon from San Francisco. The aircraft was parked at stand K-14, Terminal 3, was guarded for two hours by Pan Am's security company, Alert Security, but otherwise was not watched. The first leg of Pan Am Flight 103's journey began as the Boeing 727 feeder flight, PA103A, from Frankfurt International Airport, West Germany to London Heathrow. Forty-seven of the 89 passengers on PA103A transferred at Heathrow to the Boeing 747 flight PA103 which was scheduled to fly to JFK. A Boeing 727 would have been used for the final leg of the journey from JFK to Detroit. There were 243 passengers and 16 crew members on board, led by the pilot Captain James MacQuarrie, First Officer Raymond Wagner, and Flight Engineer Jerry Avritt. The flight was scheduled to depart at 18:00, and pushed back from the gate at 18:04, but because of a rush-hour delay, it took off from runway 27L at 18:25, flying northwest out of Heathrow, a so-called Daventry departure. Once clear of Heathrow, the crew steered due north toward Scotland. At 18:56, as the aircraft approached the border, it reached its cruising altitude of 31,000 ft (9400 m), and MacQuarrie throttled the engines back to cruising power. At 19:00, PA103 was picked up by the Scottish Area Control Centre at Prestwick, Scotland, where it needed clearance to begin its flight across the Atlantic Ocean. Alan Topp, an air traffic controller, made contact with the clipper as it entered Scottish airspace. Captain MacQuarrie replied: "Good evening Scottish, Clipper one zero three. We are at level three one zero." Then First Officer Wagner spoke: "Clipper 103 requesting oceanic clearance." Those were the last words heard from the aircraft.

At 19:01, Topp watched Flight 103 approach the corner of the Solway Firth, and at 19:02, it crossed its northern coast. The aircraft appeared as a small green square with a cross at its centre showing its transponder code or "squawk"—0357 and flight level—310. The code gave Topp information about the time and height of the airliner: the last code he saw for the Clipper told him it was flying at 31,000 ft (9400 m) on a heading of 316 degrees magnetic, and at a speed of 313 knots (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). At that moment, the airliner's code and the cross in the middle of the square disappeared. Topp tried to make contact with Captain MacQuarrie, and asked a nearby KLM flight to do the same, but there was no reply. At first, Topp believed he was watching the flight enter a so-called zone of silence, dead space where objects are invisible to radar. Where there should have been one green square on his screen, there were four, and as the seconds passed, the squares began to fan out (Cox and Foster 1992). Comparison of the cockpit voice recorder with the radar returns showed that 8 seconds after the explosion, wreckage had a 1-nautical-mile (2 km) spread.[4] A minute later, the wing section containing 200,000 lb (91,000 kg) of fuel hit the ground at Sherwood Crescent, Lockerbie. The British Geological Survey at nearby Eskdalemuir, registered a seismic event measuring 1.6 on the Richter scale as all trace of two families, several houses, and the 196 ft (60 m) wing of the aircraft disappeared. A British Airways pilot, Captain Robin Chamberlain, flying the Glasgow–London shuttle near Carlisle called Scottish 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 bright squares moving eastwards with the wind.

Aircraft break up
The explosion punched a 20-inch-wide (0.5 m) hole, almost directly under the P in Pan Am, on the left side of the fuselage. The disintegration of the aircraft was rapid. Investigators from the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) of the British Department of Transport concluded that the nose of the aircraft separated from the main section within three seconds of the explosion. 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 call: a 180-millisecond hissing noise could be heard as the explosion destroyed the aircraft's communications centre. After being lowered into the cockpit in Lockerbie before it was moved, and while the bodies of the flight crew were still inside it, investigators from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) concluded that no emergency procedures had been started. The pressure control and fuel switches were both set for cruise, and the crew had not used their oxygen masks, which would have descended within five seconds of a rapid depressurisation of the aircraft (Cox and Foster 1992). The nerve centre of a 747, from which all the navigation and communication systems are controlled, sits two floors below the cockpit, separated from the forward cargo hold only 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. These violent movements snapped the reinforcing belt that secured the front section to the row of windows on the left side and it began to break away. At the same time, 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 (Cox and Foster, 1992). These shock waves 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.[6] A section of the 747's roof several feet above the point of detonation peeled away. The Mach stem waves pulsing through the ductwork bounced off overhead luggage racks and other hard surfaces, jolting the passengers. The power of the explosion was increased by the difference in air pressure between the inside of the aircraft, where it was kept at breathable levels, and outside, where it was about a quarter of that at sea level. The nose of the aircraft, containing the crew and the first class section, broke away, striking the No. 3 Pratt & Whitney engine as it snapped off. 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 (6000 m), at which point its dive became almost vertical.[7] As it descended, the fuselage broke into smaller pieces, with the section attached to the wings landing first in Sherwood Crescent, where the aviation fuel inside the wings ignited, causing a fireball that destroyed several houses, and which was so intense that nothing remained of the left wing of the aircraft. Investigators were able to determine that both wings had landed in the crater only after counting the number of large steel flap drive jackscrews that were found there (Cox and Foster 1992).

Victims -
Passengers and crew
All 243 passengers and 16 crew members were killed. A Scottish
Fatal Accident Inquiry, which opened on October 1 1990, heard that, when the cockpit broke off, tornado-force winds tore through the fuselage, tearing clothes off passengers and turning objects like drink carts into lethal pieces of shrapnel. 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. People and objects not fixed down would have been blown out of the aircraft at an air temperature of −46 °C (−50 °F), their 6-mile (9 km) fall lasting about two minutes (Cox and Foster 1992). Some passengers remained attached to the fuselage by their seat belts, landing in Lockerbie 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 depressurization of the aircraft, and may have been alive on impact. None of these passengers showed signs of injury from the explosion itself, or from the decompression and disintegration of the aircraft. The inquest heard that a mother was found holding her baby, two friends were holding hands, and a number of passengers were found clutching crucifixes. 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 rescuer could summon help. A male passenger was also found alive, and medical authorities believe he might have survived had he been found earlier (Cox and Foster 1992).

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