Pan Am Flight 103

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Pan Am Flight 103

Clipper Maid of the Seas, pictured some months before the aircraft crashed at Lockerbie, Scotland

Date    December 21, 1988
Type   Terrorist bombing
Site   Lockerbie, Scotland
Fatalities   270 (including 11 on ground)
Injuries   0
Aircraft type    Boeing 747-121
Operator    Pan American World Airways
Tail number    N739PA
Passengers   243
Crew   16
Survivors   0

Pan Am Flight 103 was Pan American World Airways' third daily scheduled transatlantic flight from London's Heathrow International Airport to New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport. On December 21, 1988, the aircraft flying this route, a Boeing 747-121 registered N739PA and named "Clipper Maid of the Seas", was destroyed as it flew over Lockerbie, Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland. In the subsequent investigation into the crash, forensic experts determined that 12 to 16 oz (340 to 450 g) of plastic explosive had been detonated in the forward cargo hold, triggering a sequence of events that led to the rapid destruction of the aircraft. Winds of 100 knots (190 km/h) scattered victims and debris along a 130 km (81 mile) corridor over an area of 845 square miles (2189 sq km). The death toll was 270 people from 21 countries, including 11 people in the town of Lockerbie.

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. It 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 attack on American civilians until the September 11, 2001 attacks. After a three year joint investigation by the Scottish 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 Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi, a Libyan intelligence officer and the head of security for Libyan Arab Airlines (LAA), and Al Amin Khalifa Fhimah, the LAA station manager in Luqa Airport, Malta. United Nations sanctions against Libya and protracted negotiations with the Libyan leader Colonel Muammar 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. He is serving his sentence in Greenock prison near Glasgow, where he continues to profess his innocence.


PA103 had started as PA103A at Frankfurt International Airport in Frankfurt, West Germany, operated by a Boeing 727 for the leg to Heathrow Airport in London, England. Forty-seven of the 89 passengers on PA103A changed aircraft there to a Boeing 747 which would continue the flight, thereafter called PA103, on its journey to JFK in New York.

The 747 had arrived at noon from San Francisco and had been parked at stand K-14, Terminal 3, and guarded for two hours by Pan Am's security company, Alert Security, but otherwise not watched.

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. Thirty-five students from Syracuse University and two from the State University of New York at Oswego were on board, flying home from an overseas study program in London. Ten of the victims were residents of Long Island – including father and son, John and Sean Mulroy – and were returning home for seasonal celebrations with families and friends, as reported by Newsday of December 27, 1988.

Five members of the Dixit family, including 3-year-old Suruchi Rattan, were flying to Detroit from New Delhi. They were supposed to be on Flight 67, which had left Frankfurt earlier in the day, but one of the children had fallen ill with breathing difficulties, and the pilot had taken the unusual step of bringing the plane back to the gate to allow the family to disembark. The boy soon recovered, and the family was transferred to PA103 instead. Suruchi was wearing a bright red kurta and salwar for her journey — a knee length tunic and matching pants — and she became associated with a note left with flowers outside Lockerbie town hall:

To the little girl in the red dress who lies here who made my flight from Frankfurt such fun. You didn't deserve this. God Bless, Chas.

There were at least four U.S. intelligence officers on the passenger list, with rumors, never confirmed, of a fifth. The presence of these men on the flight later gave rise to a number of conspiracy theories, in which one or more of them were said to have been the bombers' targets. Matthew Gannon, the CIA's deputy station chief in Beirut, Lebanon, was sitting in Clipper Class, seat 14J. Major Chuck "Tiny" McKee , a senior army officer on secondment to the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) in Beirut, sat behind Gannon in the centre aisle in seat 15F. Two CIA officers, believed to be 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, and 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 out of Cyprus that morning. Major McKee is believed to have been in Beirut trying to locate the American hostages held at that time by Hezbollah. After the bombing, sources close to the investigation told journalists that a map had been found in Lockerbie showing the suspected locations of the hostages, as marked by McKee, though this discovery was not confirmed in court.

Also on board, in seat 53K at the back of the plane, was 20-year-old Khalid Nazir Jaafar, who had moved from Lebanon to Detroit with his family, where his father ran a successful auto-repair business. Because of his Lebanese background, and because he was returning from having visited relatives there, Jaafar's name later figured prominently in the investigation into the bombing, as well as in a number of conspiracy theories that developed.

Helsinki warning

A declassified CIA document referring to the Helsinki warning
A declassified CIA document referring to the Helsinki warning

On December 5, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued a security bulletin saying that, on December 5, a man with an Arabic accent had telephoned the U.S. Embassy in Helsinki, Finland, and had told them that a Pan Am flight from Frankfurt to the United States would be blown up within the next two weeks by someone associated with the Abu Nidal Organization. He said a Finnish woman would carry the bomb on board as an unwitting courier. The caller was off by only two days.

The warning was taken seriously at the time by the U.S. government. The State Department cabled the bulletin to dozens of embassies. The FAA sent it to all U.S. carriers, including Pan Am, which had charged each of the passengers a five-dollar security surcharge, promising a "program that will screen passengers, employees, airport facilities, baggage and aircraft with unrelenting thoroughness" (The Independent, March 29, 1990); however, the security team in Frankfurt had found the warning hidden under a pile of papers on someone's desk the day after the bombing (Cox and Foster 1992). One of the Frankfurt security screeners, whose job it was to spot explosive devices under X-ray, told ABC News that she had first learned what Semtex was during ABC's interview of her 11 months after the bombing (Prime Time Live, November 1989).

On December 13, the warning was posted on bulletin boards in the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, and eventually distributed to the entire American community there, including journalists and businessmen, as a result of which a number of people allegedly booked on carriers other than Pan Am, leaving seats empty on PA103 that were later sold cheaply in so-called "bucket shops". PA103 investigators subsequently said the telephone warning had been a hoax and a chilling coincidence.

People who missed the flight

A number of stories emerged after the bombing of people with reservations on PA103 who missed the flight. American musical quartet The Four Tops were returning to the States for Christmas, but were late getting out of a recording session. Angry at being too late to catch the flight, they were arguing about it when they heard it had exploded ( ABC News Prime Time Live, November 30, 1989).

Former Sex Pistols band member John Lydon and his wife, Nora, also had a narrow escape. "Nora and I should have been dead," he told the Scottish Sunday Mirror. "We only missed the flight because Nora hadn't packed in time. The minute we realised what happened, we just looked at each other and almost collapsed."

Jaswant Basuta got drunk in the passenger lounge after checking in, and sprinted to the gate to find the aircraft's doors had just been closed. He pleaded for the doors to be re-opened, but Pan Am duty manager Christopher Price refused. Just over an hour later, two police officers arrived in the passenger lounge to tell Basuta the flight was down and that he was a suspect, because his suitcase had been on the plane, but he had not — a breach by the airline of Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) rules, which insist that the checked baggage of any passenger who failed to board be removed from the aircraft's hold. While he was being questioned, his wife, Surinder — who believed he was on the flight — made a promise to the image of a Sikh prophet on the clock in the kitchen at home that she would hire priests to perform a special 48-hour prayer session if her husband survived. On a Friday morning two months later, she and her husband, Jaswant went to a Sikh temple in New York, and with the priests she had invited, prayed from 10:00 a.m. on Friday until 10:00 a.m. on Sunday. "On one side of the door was death," Surinder told authors Matthew Cox and Tom Foster, "on the other, life. It's like someone pulled him back" (Cox and Foster 1992).

Others known or rumoured to have cancelled reservations on PA103 include former South African foreign minister Pik Botha, who was travelling to a United Nations ceremony in New York to sign an accord granting independence to Namibia ( Bernt Carlsson, the UN Commissioner for Namibia, who was travelling to the same ceremony, died on board the flight ); John McCarthy, then U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon; Chris Revell, the son of Oliver "Buck" Revell, then executive assistant director of the FBI; and Steven Greene, assistant administrator in the Office of Intelligence of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. The alleged cancellation of tickets by high-profile passengers later fuelled rumours that intelligence agencies had advance warning of the bombing.

Last contact

The flight was scheduled to depart at 18:00, and pushed back from the gate at 18:04, but because of a 25-minute delay, not unusual during rush hour at Heathrow Airport, it took off from runway 27L at 18:25 instead, flying northwest out of Heathrow, a so-called Daventry departure. Once clear of Heathrow, the pilot 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 James 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 plane: 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 air speed. It was 46.9 seconds past 19:02. 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 plane's code and the cross in the middle of the square disappeared. Topp tried to make contact with Captain McQuarrie, 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.

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 Eskdalemuir, just outside Lockerbie, 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 massive 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 flight data recorder, a bright orange-coloured recording device located 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 percent 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. (pdf) 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 enhanced 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 what it is 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 (6,000 m), at which point its dive became almost vertical.

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 flapjack screws that were found there (Cox and Foster 1992).


Passengers and crew

Map of PA103's massive debris field.
Map of PA103's massive debris field.

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 would have torn 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 minus 50°F (-46°C), 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.

The flight crew and a number of first-class passengers were seated inside the aircraft nose section, when it crash-landed in a field near Tundergarth village church.
The flight crew and a number of first-class passengers were seated inside the aircraft nose section, when it crash-landed in a field near Tundergarth village church.

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 Centre 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 pilot, 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 crash-landed 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).

Lockerbie residents

On the ground, 11 Lockerbie residents were killed when the wings, still attached by a piece of fuselage, hit 13 Sherwood Crescent at more than 500 mph and exploded, creating a crater 47 metres (155 ft) long and with a volume of 560 m³ (730 yd³), vaporising several houses and their foundations, and damaging 21 others so badly they had to be demolished. Four members of one family, Jack and Rosalind Somerville and their children, Paul and Lynsey, died when their house at 15 Sherwood Crescent exploded. A fireball rose above the houses and moved toward the nearby Glasgow Carlisle motorway ( A74(M)), scorching cars in the southbound lanes, leading motorists and local residents to believe that there had been a meltdown at the nearby Chapelcross nuclear power plant. The only house left standing intact in the area belonged to Father Patrick Keegans, Lockerbie's Roman Catholic priest.

For many days, Lockerbie residents lived with the sight of bodies in their gardens and in the streets, as forensic workers photographed and tagged the location of each body to help determine the exact position and force of the onboard explosion, by coordinating information about each passenger's assigned seat, type of injury, and where they had landed.

Local resident Bunty Galloway told authors Geraldine Sheridan and Thomas Kenning (1993):

Pan Am Flight 103
A boy was lying at the bottom of the steps on to the road. A young laddie with brown socks and blue trousers on. Later that evening my son-in-law asked for a blanket to cover him. I didn't know he was dead. I gave him a lamb's wool travelling rug thinking I'd keep him warm. Two more girls were lying dead across the road, one of them bent over garden railings. It was just as though they were sleeping. The boy lay at the bottom of my stairs for days. Every time I came back to my house for clothes he was still there. "My boy is still there," I used to tell the waiting policeman. Eventually on Saturday I couldn't take it no more. "You got to get my boy lifted," I told the policeman. That night he was moved.
Pan Am Flight 103

Despite being advised by their governments not to travel to Lockerbie, many of the passengers' relatives, most of them from the U.S., arrived there within days to identify their loved ones. Volunteers from Lockerbie set up and manned canteens, which stayed open 24 hours a day, where relatives, soldiers, police officers, and social workers could find free sandwiches, hot meals, coffee, and someone to talk to. The women of the town washed, dried, and ironed every piece of clothing that was found, so that as many items as possible could be returned to the relatives once the police had determined they were of no forensic value. The BBC's Scottish correspondent, Andrew Cassel, reported on the tenth 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.

Claims of responsibility

According to a CIA analysis dated December 22, 1988, several groups were quick to claim responsibility in telephone calls in the United States and Europe:

  • A male caller claimed that a group called the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution had destroyed the plane in retaliation for the U.S. shootdown of an Iranian airliner last July.
  • A caller claiming to represent the Islamic Jihad organization told ABC News in New York that the group had planted the bomb to commemorate Christmas.
  • The Ulster Defense League allegedly issued a telephonic claim.
  • Another anonymous caller claimed the plane had been downed by Mossad, the Israeli Intelligence service.

After finishing this list, the author then stated: We consider the claims from the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution as the most credible one received so far. The analysis concluded: We cannot assign responsibility for this tragedy to any terrorist group at this time. We anticipate that, as often happens, many groups will seek to claim credit.


On 15 April– 16 April 1986, U.S. warplanes launched a series of military strikes from British bases called Operation El Dorado Canyon — the first U.S. military strikes from Britain since World War II — against Tripoli and Benghazi, Libya, in retaliation for the bombing 10 days earlier of a West Berlin nightclub used by U.S. soldiers, which had killed three and injured 230. (Gaddafi had, in turn, ordered the West Berlin bombing in revenge for the sinking of two Libyan boats by the United States in the Gulf of Sirte at the end of March.) Among dozens of others, the airstrikes killed Hanna Gaddafi, a baby girl Gaddafi claimed to have adopted.


The initial investigation into the crash site by Dumfries and Galloway police involved military and civilian helicopter surveys, satellite imaging, and a fingertip search of the area by police and soldiers. More than 10,000 pieces of debris were retrieved, tagged and entered into a computer tracking system.

The fuselage of the aircraft was reconstructed by air accident investigators, revealing a 20-inch hole consistent with an explosion in the forward cargo hold. Examination of the baggage containers revealed that the container nearest the hole had blackening, pitting, and severe damage indicating a "high-energy event" had taken place inside it. A series of test explosions were carried out to confirm the precise location and quantity of explosive used.

Fragments of a Samsonite suitcase believed to have contained the bomb were recovered, together with parts and pieces of circuit board identified as part of a Toshiba Bombeat radio cassette player, similar to that used to conceal a Semtex bomb seized by West German police from a Palestinian terror group two months earlier. Items of baby clothing were also traced to the same suitcase, which were subsequently proven to have been made in Malta.

The clothes were traced to a Maltese merchant, Tony Gauci, who became a key prosecution witness, testifying that he sold the clothes to a man of Libyan appearance, whom he later identified as Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi.

A circuit board fragment, found embedded in a piece of charred material, was identified as part of an electronic timer similar to that found on a Libyan intelligence agent who had been arrested 10 months previously, carrying materials for a Semtex bomb. The timer was traced through its Swiss manufacturer, Mebo, to the Libyan military.

Investigators also discovered that an unaccompanied bag had been routed onto PA103, via the interline baggage system, from Luqa airport on Air Malta flight KM180 to Frankfurt, and then by feeder flight PA103A to Heathrow. This unaccompanied bag was shown at the trial to have been the bomb suitcase.

Trial and appeal

On May 3, 2000 the trial of the two Libyans, Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi and Lamin Khalifah Fhimah, accused of the 1988 PA103 bombing, began. Megrahi was convicted of murder on January 31, 2001, and was sentenced to life imprisonment. His co-accused, Fhimah, was acquitted.

Megrahi's appeal against conviction was rejected on March 14, 2002. He subsequently appealed against his 27-year minimum prison sentence. His case has been under review for the past three years by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) which is expected to conclude that Megrahi's case should be referred back to the High Court for a fresh appeal against conviction.

In two reports issued in February 2001 and March 2002 respectively, Professor Hans Köchler, an international observer of the trial appointed by the Secretary-General of the United Nations, criticized the decisions of the trial and appeal courts as a "spectacular miscarriage of justice." In a statement issued in August 2003, Köchler called for an independent international inquiry into the case.

In November 2005 legal academic, Professor Robert Black, who devised the special arrangements for the non-jury Scots law trial at Camp Zeist, Netherlands, gave his opinion:

"The SCCRC will proceed with its investigation and with its likely reference of the case back for a fresh appeal against conviction, even if Megrahi is repatriated and (as part of any deal between the UK and Libyan governments) asks that any further proceedings be terminated. UK Lockerbie relatives have already made representations to this effect to the SCCRC, which is statutorily obliged to take such representations into account in reaching its decision."

On May 4, 2006, the Scottish Executive announced that a panel of five judges sitting in Edinburgh would hear Megrahi's appeal against his 27-year minimum jail sentence on July 11, 2006. However, defence lawyers and others, including PA103 relatives, expressed concern about the timing of this appeal against sentence and about a possible appeal against conviction (that the SCCRC might decide upon) which, they maintain, should be heard at the same time. Addressing these concerns, a court spokesman said:

"There might be a referral from the commission [SCCRC], but there might not be."

Lawyers for Megrahi later insisted that both appeals (against sentence and conviction) ought to take place at the special Scottish court at Camp Zeist, Netherlands – where his trial and first appeal against conviction were held – rather than in Edinburgh. The Crown disputed the move on security and cost grounds, but on June 8, 2006, the Scottish Court of Criminal Appeal decided to postpone the July appeal against sentence until October 2006. On November 1, 2006 Megrahi was reported to have dropped his demand for the new appeal to be held at Camp Zeist.

Compensation from Libya

On May 29, 2002, Libya offered up to $2.7 billion to settle claims by the families of the 270 killed in the Lockerbie bombing, representing US$10 million per family. The Libyan offer meant that:

  • 40% of the money would be released when United Nations sanctions – suspended in 1999 – were cancelled;
  • another 40% when U.S. trade sanctions were lifted; and,
  • the final 20% when the U.S. State Department removed Libya from its list of states sponsoring terrorism.

Jim Kreindler of New York law firm, Kreindler & Kreindler, which orchestrated the settlement, said:

"These are uncharted waters. It is the first time that any of the states designated as sponsors of terrorism have offered compensation to families of terror victims."

The U.S. State Department maintained that it was not directly involved:

"Some families want cash, others say it is blood money," said a State Department official.

Compensation for the families of the PA103 victims was among the steps set by the UN for lifting its sanctions against Libya. Other requirements included a formal denunciation of terrorism—which Libya said it had already made—and accepting responsibility for the actions of its intelligence agents.

Over 18 months later, on December 5, 2003, Jim Kreindler revealed that his Park Avenue law firm would receive an initial contingency fee of around US$1 million from each of the 128 American families Kreindler represents. The firm's fees could exceed US$300 million eventually. But Kreindler argued:

"Over the past seven years we have had a dedicated team working tirelessly on this and we deserve the contingency fee we have worked so hard for, and I think we have provided the relatives with value for money."

Another top legal firm in the U.S., Speiser Krause, which represented 60 relatives, of whom half were UK families, were understood to have concluded contingency deals securing them fees of between 28 and 35 percent of individual settlements. Frank Greneda of Speiser Krause commented:

"Sure the rewards in the U.S. are more substantial than anywhere else in the world but nobody has questioned the fee whilst the work has been going on, it is only now as we approach a resolution when the criticism comes your way."

On August 15, 2003 Libya's UN ambassador, Ahmed Own, submitted a letter to the UN Security Council formally accepting "responsibility for the actions of its officials" in relation to the Lockerbie bombing. The Libyan government then proceeded to pay compensation to each family of US$8 million (from which legal fees of about US$2.5 million were deducted) and, as a result, the UN cancelled the sanctions that had been suspended four years earlier and U.S. trade sanctions were lifted. A further US$2 million would have gone to each family had the U.S. State Department removed Libya from its list of states regarded as supporting international terrorism, but as this did not happen by the deadline set by Libya, the Libyan Central Bank withdrew the remaining US$540 million in April 2005 from the escrow account in Switzerland through which the earlier US$2.16 billion compensation for the victims' families had been paid. With the announcement on May 15, 2006, that the United States is to renew full diplomatic relations with Libya after deciding to remove it from its list of countries that support terrorism, the inevitable question arises: will Libya now pay the remaining compensation of US$2 million per family (US$540 million in total) that was previously on offer?

Some observers believe that Libya's acceptance of responsibility amounted to a business deal aimed at having the sanctions overturned, rather than an admission of guilt. On February 24, 2004, Libyan Prime Minister Shukri Ghanem stated in a BBC Radio 4 interview that his country had paid the compensation as the "price for peace" and to secure the lifting of sanctions. Asked if Libya did not accept guilt, he said, "I agree with that." He also said there was no evidence to link Libya with the April 1984 shooting of police officer Yvonne Fletcher outside the Libyan Embassy in London. Gaddafi later retracted Ghanem's comments, under pressure from Washington and London.

A civil action against Libya continues on behalf of Pan Am, which went bankrupt partly as a result of the attack. The airline is seeking $4.5 billion for the loss of the aircraft and the effect on the airline's business.

In October 2005, it was reported that the British, American and Libyan governments were negotiating the transfer of Megrahi to a prison in his home country on condition that he drops any further appeal against his conviction. It was a proviso of his conviction that he should serve his full jail term in Scotland. That such a deal could even be contemplated strongly suggests the British and American governments would prefer the case not to be reopened, since a successful appeal could easily sour their new détente with Libya.

Alternative theories

Two controversial PA103 topics appear in the alternative theories article:

  • Reopening the case
  • The framing of Libya

And seven alternative theories, which dispute the guilt of Megrahi and/or the responsibility of Libya for the PA103 bombing, are examined in some detail:

  • CIA in Lockerbie
  • Iran, the PFLP-GC, and operation Autumn Leaves
  • Iran and the London angle
  • Libya and Abu Nidal
  • CIA-protected suitcase theory
  • Radio detonation
  • South-West Africa (Namibia)

Epilogue from the president's commission

On September 29, 1989, President Bush appointed Ann McLaughlin Korologos, former Secretary of Labor, as chairman of the President's Commission on Aviation Security and Terrorism (PCAST) to review and report on aviation security policy in the light of the sabotage of flight PA103. Mrs Korologos and the PCAST team (Senator Alfonse D'Amato, Senator Frank Lautenberg, Representative John Paul Hammerschmidt, Representative James Oberstar, General Thomas Richards, deputy commander of U.S. forces in Germany, and Edward Hidalgo, former Secretary of the U.S. Navy) submitted their report, with its 64 recommendations, on May 15, 1990. The PCAST chairman also handed a sealed envelope to the President which was widely believed to apportion blame for the PA103 bombing. Extensively covered in The Guardian the next day, the PCAST report concluded: "National will and the moral courage to exercise it are the ultimate means of defeating terrorism. The Commission recommends a more vigorous policy that not only pursues and punishes terrorists, but also makes state sponsors of terrorism pay a price for their actions."

Before submitting their report, the PCAST members met with a group of British PA103 relatives at the U.S. embassy in London on February 12, 1990. Twelve years later, on July 11, 2002, Scottish M.P. Tam Dalyell reminded the House of Commons of a controversial statement made at that 1990 embassy meeting by a PCAST member to one of the British relatives, Martin Cadman:

"Your government and ours know exactly what happened. But they're never going to tell."

The statement first came to public attention in the 1994 documentary film The Maltese Double Cross – Lockerbie and was published in both The Guardian of July 29, 1995 and the special report from Private Eye magazine entitled Lockerbie, the flight from justice May/June 2001. Dalyell asserted in Parliament that the statement had never been refuted.


Syracuse University's memorial
Syracuse University's memorial

There are a number of private and public memorials to the PA103 victims. Dark Elegy is the work of sculptor Susan Lowenstein of Long Island, whose son Alexander, then 21, was a passenger on the flight. The work consists of 43 statues of the naked wives and mothers who lost a husband or a child. Inside each sculpture there is a personal memento of the victim.

U.S. President Bill Clinton dedicated a Memorial Cairn to the victims at Arlington National Cemetery on November 3, 1995, and there are similar memorials at Syracuse University; Dryfesdale Cemetery, near Lockerbie; and in Sherwood Crescent, Lockerbie.

Syracuse University holds a memorial week every year called "Remembrance Week" to commemorate its 35 lost students. Every December 21, a service is held in the university's chapel at 14:03 (19:03 UTC), marking the moment the aircraft exploded. The university also awards university tuition fees to two students from Lockerbie Academy each year, in the form of its Lockerbie scholarship.

There are memorials in Lockerbie & Moffat Roman Catholic churches, where plaques list the names of all 270 victims of the tragedy. In Lockerbie Town Hall Council Chambers, there is a stained-glass window depicting flags of the 21 different countries whose citizens lost their lives in the disaster. There is a book of remembrance at Lockerbie public library and another at Tundergarth Church.

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