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 You are in: Special Report: 1998: 12/98: Lockerbie  
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Lockerbie Monday, 21 December, 1998, 06:08 GMT
Reporter's reflections
Burning house
No one will forget the destruction
The crash of Flight 103 remains Britain's largest mass murder. But to those involved in the emergency operations that night, it first appeared to be a huge, tragic accident.

Scotland Correspondent Andrew Cassel looks back on the night that put Lockerbie on the international map.

Lockerbie
I knew within seconds of arriving in Lockerbie that there had been no survivors: The ambulances gave it away.

They were strung out before me - two, three four abreast - all along one of the country roads leading into the town. Their doors were splayed open in hopeful readiness, their flashing lights casting a flickering blue tinge to the Christmas decorations above them.

But there was little sign of activity - no paramedics urgently preparing equipment, no police officers in sight, no drivers now running engines.

Road sign to Lockerbie
The crash put Lockerbie on the map
I had driven into Lockerbie via Tundergarth Hill, the site where the cockpit of the doomed aircraft had come down.

I paused briefly to get my bearings. I had lived and worked in Scotland for many years but the town was not one I knew very well. For me it was a brief train stop on the main line between Glasgow and London or a name on a signpost as you passed it on the A74 dual carriageway south towards the border.

It was the fire hoses, snaking through the metal debris littered across the town, that led me towards one of the worst areas of devastation at Sherwood Crescent. It was there that one of the wings and part of the fuselage of the plane had landed in a huge fireball.

We didn't know it at the time but this was where all 11 of the town's victims had lived.

Everywhere you looked was a reminder that many, many more had died that this had been a disaster of international proportions. Here a jumper snagged in a tree. There an American passport partially hidden by an in-flight meal tray strewn across the footpath. The smell of aviation fuel was overpowering.

The days ahead saw a succession of visitors and dignitaries to the town: American and British politicians, senior police officers, accident investigators.

There were news conferences, constant updates of the death toll all accompanied by the constant clatter of helicopters overhead shuttling search teams across the countryside to locate the trail of wreckage.

Through it all, stoically and with enormous dignity, the people of Lockerbie bore their own loss and opened their homes and hearts to the relatives of the passengers who had died.

They had been told to stay away, to spare themselves the horrific scenes. They came anyway.

The bonds forged then continue to this day and were about the only positive message I took with me as I left the town the day before Christmas.

Links to more Lockerbie stories are at the foot of the page.


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