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1988: Debris of a disaster

Pan Am flight 103 was just 38 minutes into its flight to New York when the bomb hidden in its luggage hold exploded.

The aircraft disintegrated and plunged several thousand feet onto the town of Lockerbie in south-west Scotland, killing all on board and 11 people on the ground.

You sent us some of your memories of the atrocity.


The A74 had just been re-opened and I was driving north from London for Christmas with family in Glasgow.

There was just a huge bite out of the southbound lane of the A74.

The nose of the aircraft (seen in the signature photo of the event) seemed like it was within touching distance of the car on the west side of the road.

Everywhere else was a confetti of aluminium fragments - some carefully swept to the side of the road in little piles.

I don't recall if it had been determined at that point that it was a bomb but whatever caused the plane to come down - clearly evidenced by the surrounding devastation - mean't that some folks were not going to be spending Christmas with their families - like I was.
Graeme Smith, USA, ex-Scotland

I am an Air Traffic Controller at Carlisle Airport and on 21 December 1988 worked the morning watch. On that day we had only four movements [of aircraft].

At the end of my shift at 1330, I was feeling seriously rough with all signs of flu and had a few good doses of hot whisky in the airport bar before my wife, June, the airport receptionist drove us home.

I then took to my bed and at about 1920 hours June woke me saying "You'd better get up, a jumbo has crashed on Lockerbie".

My initial reaction was that I had slept in and that it was the following morning and that I was going to be late for work.

By 1945 hours we were both back at the airport, which was re-opened, and I was in the controller's position in ATC. With my colleague, Bill Fogden, the only other controller acting as assistant, I stayed there for the next 23 hours.

We handled 196 movements as all hell broke loose. Press, rescue helicopters, Pan Am airliners and USAF C130 all piled in. Rescue and search helicopters were refuelled during the night and the following day at the end of our disused runway.

At around midday on 22 December, my CAA [Civil Aviation Authority] doctor from Carlisle appeared in the tower and asked how I was. I was really too busy to answer but he insisted on a quick look down my croaky throat.

He then quietly disappeared and came back 45 minutes later with prescriptions from a local chemist.

Lockerbie was so close to us at Carlisle Airport and yet just out of sight. I am not one who believes in all this post traumatic stress stuff but in February 1989, June and I drove past Lockerbie on the way to a short break holiday cottage in Scotland. Large hoardings hid the crash site from the motorway.

As we passed we were both silent and I am not ashamed to admit that tears streamed down my face - perhaps that was my release. That was an ATC shift to remember and one that I would rather forget.
Hugh McMullen, Carlisle

My ex-fiancé was on the plane that exploded over Lockerbie.

I'm originally from Scotland, although I live in America now. My parents live in Lanarkshire. I drove up to visit them over the Christmas season that year and remember seeing all the debris still lying by the side of the road as we passed Lockerbie.

It was a very traumatic time for all my family. They loved my ex, even thought we had recently broken up and they were distraught at his death.

I still remember the day every year and say a little something to him in my mind and hope to meet him again someday. He was my first love.
Janet, USA

I was serving in the RAF at the time and was involved in supporting the recovery teams sent there. I didn't go to the site as I personally knew some of the victims.


" The media tends to forget the work that has to be done after such events "

Neil Small, Scotland

A lot of the guys who were sent to recover the debris, a most distressing task, had the unenviable job of attending Kegworth [the British Midlands plane crash on 8 January 1989] not long after. The media tends to forget the work that has to be done after such events, and the people that are involved.
Neil Small, Scotland

I was only 13 at the time, but I remember what happened like it was yesterday. I live in the surrounding countryside of Lockerbie, not five minutes from where the cockpit landed.

I remember arriving at the scene about 10 minutes after the explosion and feeling an enormous sense of fear and confusion.

It was a terrible day that will stay in the hearts and minds of the people of Lockerbie forever.
Richard Miller, Scotland

I was living in Northumberland at the time and was only nine years old, but I remember it very well.


" My mother even found someone's driving licence in the hedge just next to our house "

Jonathan Smith, US

It was really windy in the north-east on that day and parts of the plane, like insulation, silver and yellow, stuck in the trees in the woods where we lived. I collected it all up, along with people's mail, and the odd bit of clothing which we had to hand into the police.

We collected the debris up in black bags and my mother even found someone's driving licence in the hedge just next to our house.

I remember that on the next farm down they had a whole sack of mail that landed in one of their fields.

I was still quite young, but I can remember being very upset that all those people had died up there, and all their things were scattered around the countryside.
Jonathan Smith, US

On 23 December my partner of the time, his mother and me were driving up to Lanarkshire due to the death of his uncle. We passed the site in the early hours of the morning of 24 December and it was so terribly eerie.

Only the northbound carriageway of the A74 was open at the time and you could see the devastation. Burnt-out cars were still on the southbound carriageway and it made me feel sick to see the shells of the vehicles that had been hit by the fire and know that what I was seeing was death.


" I realised that we were actually driving over parts of the downed plane "

Katrina, UK

You couldn't help but think about the poor people who had no chance of escape, either in the cars, in the plane or the residents of Lockerbie.

We returned to Scotland for the funeral two days later. When we came close to Lockerbie there was a huge tailback, either due to road restrictions in place or macabre "rubberneckers" and we had to crawl past the village on the A74.

I remember looking out of the passenger window as the car slowly moved forward and seeing metal on the ground, beside the road and on its edges.

I had to look again before I realised that we were actually driving over parts of the downed plane - small pieces of white, painted metal with the rivets still in place on some pieces.

That really shook me up and even now when I travel north to see my own relatives in Scotland I cannot go past Lockerbie without feeling a shiver of horror.
Katrina, UK

I was part of the St Athan RAF Mountain Rescue team that went to help out at Lockerbie.

My most vivid memory was of the A74 which was littered with cars and and parts of the aircraft.

We where directed by the police along the road. The scene was quite surreal. The four ton truck we had even managed to get a puncture from a piece of aircraft. (those tyres are hard to puncture).

I will never forget the few days we spent at Lockerbie.
Brian Lee, UK

I was only a schoolboy of 17 at the time and clearly remember the fateful night.

I live in Northamptonshire an area at that time called the red route or as Pan Am 103 knew it as the Daventry run.

I remember walking the dog that night shortly before 18.20 to 18.40, the air was still and quiet and I remember to this day seeing the tail lights of a solitary jumbo jet flying overhead, realising later that this could only have been PA103 from Heathrow, given the times of flight.

It was only after returning home that I heard of the crash and watched the BBC news coverage of the event.

I was appalled at the devastation and could only think that if the plane had been later leaving Heathrow then perhaps my town would have been the unfortunate one.

I had wanted to help but could not drive to Scotland and felt helpless.

To this day I still remember every December 21st with a moment of silence for those that perished, and unlike me were not lucky enough to see Christmas. God bless each one of them now and forevermore.

The scars may have healed somewhat and a closure put on the incident but people will still remember this for all time. The emotion of that day will live with me for a long time to come.
Martin Smith, UK

I was travelling to Glasgow for a funeral. About Carlisle I noticed that the outside lane was full of army, police, mountain rescue etc. I think it was at Gretna where we were diverted to Dumfries.

We heard on the radio that they were calling for blood donors so we stopped off at Dumfries hospital but were told that blood was no longer needed. At this point we realised the seriousness of the crash.

We came down from the Glasgow the next day and Lockerbie was like a war zone with no windows in any of the houses and the southbound caariage way of the A74 missing .

There were pieces of aicraft all about, burnt-out cars and an enormous crater, those views will stay with me until the day I die. I then proceeded to just miss the Kegworth crash by a few hours a few weeks later.
Tony Bathurst, UK

At the time of the Lockerbie bombing I was a young police officer working in Glasgow.

On the night of the bombing I along with my colleagues were called back to our police station and informed of the plane crash. At first we all thought it was an exercise but we were told that a jumbo jet had crashed on the town and that the town was on fire. We were advised to phone home as we couldn't be told at that time when we would be returning home

On the journey down there were dozens of police, fire and ambulances racing down to the town. On our arrival we at first went to a local hall and then went out to locate the bodies. I along with a number of others were sent to Sherwood Crescent. My first impression was of the overwhelming smell of aviation fuel and the utter devastation of the houses.

As the electricity had been knocked out we were working by torch light and the scene that we found will remain with me. As I only found body parts the scale of the disaster began to hit home and I will never forget the sights which I encountered that are too horrific to mention here.

When my colleagues and I were eventually sent home there was complete and utter silence as we made our way back to Glasgow. I will never forget the relatives of the victims at JFK Airport who I saw on TV later that day grieving for their loved ones and thinking about the people I had found earlier on. It took me some months before I was able to get the images out of my mind.
Raymond Pratt, UK

We could have been on this plane. My family (myself, my wife, both 26 at the time, and our four-year-old son) were scheduled to fly to US where I accepted a graduate scholarship at Wesleyan University (Connecticut).

At the time we lived in Krakow, Poland and had a choice of flying either PanAm or LOT Polish Airlines. Some time earlier (May 1987?) there was a huge plane crash in Poland (LOT were flying Soviet planes IL-62) and my wife insisted that we fly Pan Am.

This was much more expensive than LOT and the only way to reduce the cost was to fly just before Christmas. I'd tentatively booked us for this flight only to discover that my sponsor at this time required we fly LOT and we had to reschedule.
Sylwester Chyb, UK


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