American Pan Am flight 103 that exploded in the air on December 21, 1988, with 288 passengers on board was a turning point in international politics as well as air safety.

American Pan Am flight 103

Boeing 747 took off from Heathrow Airport in London was supposed to be landed in Kennedy airport in New York City, USA. The flight, with 243 passengers and 16 crew, were mostly American. Most of them were on their way home for the Christmas holidays. But less than 38 minutes after the takeoff, the flight exploded in the Swedish city of Lockerbie about 30,000 feet above the ground, leaving no clue to the control centre. As a result, 11 civilians were also killed on the ground. The death toll from the accident was 270.

The place where the plane crashed
Picture: The place where the plane crashed

US and British investigative teams began an investigation into the plane crash. The first question they faced was whether it was a terrorist attack or a technical fault. Because the pilots made no indication of a technical fault and the black box did not confirm it, their suspicion was aimed at a terrorist attack. They continued to collect the wreckage of the plane to get confirmation about their suspicion. Using the collected pieces, they built a model of the aircraft. It is shown in the picture below.

Rebuilt aircraft
Picture: Rebuilt aircraft

Fuselage if the luggage compartment of the plane was wrecked the most. Parts of a suitcase and parts of a small cassette player were found in the wreckage. Investigators concluded that the plane had been blown up by a time bomb attached to a cassette player in a suitcase. The investigation team then had problems with which terrorist group did this? and how the suitcase got to the plane.

The torn garments were labelled “Made in Malta” and presumed that this is a suitcase from Malta. It was further speculated that it had flown from Malta to Frankfurt Airport in Germany and then to Heathrow Airport. The Germans confirmed that there was a suitcase that did not belong to a passenger on a flight from Malta, but Maltese officials remained silent. At the time of handing over the suspicious suitcase to the Maltese plane, it was discovered that another suitcase had been handed over to a flight to Libya.

Investigators then turned their attention to the security of the Pan Am aircraft. Investigators then learned that the U.S. Civil Aviation Agency had previously issued a warning about a bombing, especially a few months ago. The American embassy In Helsinki, Finland was warned by an anonymous call that there will be a bomb on a plane very soon. Also in the same year, five bombs similar to the one detonated on the Pan Am were found among the weapons of 16 PLO terrorists captured by the Germans.

Following the discovery, the U.S. Civil Aviation Agency issued written warnings to all airports, making two recommendations. In that warning, They’ve been asked to use coloured screen scanners to detect plastic containing explosives during baggage inspection and, if not, all airbags to be opened and inspected. But the coloured screen scanner provided to the Pan Am aviation office in Frankfurt was out of order a few months before the accident, and they used a black and white scanner instead. Also, the investigators found that the airport maid was handling the was inexperienced and also she received only one-day training.

Their attention turned to Heathrow Airport after the Frankfurt investigations. To their surprise, the Pan Am High-Security Authority had made a statement saying it would not be required to recheck any of the luggage that had been checked in Frankfurt to Heathrow. Despite this, the Pan Am Authority charged 5 Dollars per passenger for security.

Evidence proved that someone at the Malta airport sent a suitcase carrying a bomb to Frankfurt and the negligence of Pan Am Airlines caused it to get into the plane.

After this, the investigation team investigated to find the organization responsible for the bombing. Although an Islamic organization claimed responsibility, it appeared to be an attempt to be popular.

Suspicion had fallen on three parties. They were Iran, Palestine and Libya. Iran was suspected of retaliating for the US attack on the Iranian airport on July 3, 1988. The arrest of Palestinians with bombs by German police led to the suspicion of Palestinians. The Baggage Exchange mentioned earlier was raised the suspicion about Libya.

Through the investigations of the clothing that was found the investigators could found a Maltese clothing brand name ‘Yorkie’.

The Clothing Brand Named "Yorkie"
Picture: The Clothing Brand Named “Yorkie”

The investigation team went to Malta and began questioning the Yorkie manufacturers, then they were led to Malta’s leading Yorkie brand representative, “Marie’s House”. Its owner, Tony Gucci, remembers that a Libyan man bought him clothes a few weeks ago, and surprisingly Gucci even remembered the items that the Libyan bought. Investigators arrested a man named Abdullah Basat al-Megrahi based on Gucci’s testimony. He was also a passenger on the flight from Malta to Libya on the day of the bombing. Lamin al-Khalifa, an employee of the Malta airport, was another suspect who had fled to Libya. According to the investigators, these two were also in the Libyan intelligence service.

Accordingly, these two were charged with 270 murders. Scotland demanded their extradition but the Libyan government refused. Libya said that they would lead the investigation, but the United States and Scotland rejected the decision in contempt. As a result, Libya came under international pressure and the UN Security Council imposed air and weapons sanctions against Libya on April 15, 1992.

Libya agreed to extradite the suspects if they were to be Judged independently, and in 1994 the trial started in Hague, Netherlands. But here a legal question arose as to how the case would be adjudicated in a territory not belonging to Scotland. As a solution, the Netherlands temporarily ceded territory to Scotland.,

On the 4th of April 1995, The Libyan government handed over the suspects to Scotland. This scene bought huge attention to international media.

Picture: Al-Megrahi

The sanctions on Libya were lifted and the case was adjourned on the 3rd of May 2000. Minor charges against the defendants were dropped and only murder charges were filed. A total of 232 witnesses were called to the trial, the most important being Tony Gucci, but his testimony contained contradictory statements. However, the court eventually acquitted Al-Khalifa and found Megrahi was guilty of all charges. He continued to plead guilty but was sentenced to life imprisonment because there was no death penalty in Scotland. Also, The Scotland government rejected the request of handing over the prisoner to Libya.

Suddenly, Libyan leader Colonel Gaddafi said he would take responsibility for the incident. He further added that he had no knowledge of the matter but there was also a connection between the attack and a government official. Libya paid $ 2.7 million in compensation for the dead. Megrahi appealed in July 2007 but was withdrawn after Tony Blair’s visit to Libya.

However, in 2008 Megrahi was released. Due to Humanitarian causes. Commenting on this, the Prime Minister of Scotland said that Megrahi had been released due to deadly cancer. After his release from prison, Megrahi came to Libya and was welcomed as a hero.

Megrahi At the Tripoli Airport
Picture: Megrahi At the Tripoli Airport

This incident provoked strong opposition in the Western countries Megrahi, who was to die in two months was seen in a wheelchair Supporting Gaddafi at one of his campaigns, after two years of his release. Megrahi died on May 20th, 2012. Even on his deathbed, he said that he had never seen Gucci and would forgive him.

The Lockerbie plane crash that killed 270 people made into history with his death.

So far You’ve read the legal records about the Lockerbie plane crash. But there are many who deny this, some say it was a conspiracy by the United States and Britain to plunder Libya’s oil resources. Some Others say that the bomb did not come from Malta but from Heathrow Airport. There are also many doubts about the contradictions in Tony Gucci’s testimony and views. So it is not clear about the real story behind the Lockerbie plane crash.


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