On December 21, 1988, at 7:00pm, Pan Am Flight 103 from London to New York exploded in midair over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing all 243 passengers and 16 crew members aboard, as well as 11 Lockerbie residents on the ground. A bomb hidden inside an audio cassette player detonated in the cargo area when the plane was at an altitude of 31,000 feet. The disaster, which became the subject of Britain’s largest criminal investigation, was believed to be an attack against the United States, because although the passengers came from 21 countries, the majority, 189 of the 259 victims on the plane were American. Islamic terrorists were accused of planting the bomb on the plane while it was at the airport in Frankfurt, Germany. The investigation lasted for years, 15,000 people were interviewed and 180,000 pieces of evidence were examined. Finally, in 2001, Mohmed al-Megrahi was convicted and sentenced to 20…and later 27 years in prison. Lamin Khalifa Fhimah was acquitted, and the Libyan government eventually agreed to pay damages to the families of the victims.
The lateness of the explosion made much of the recovery impossible until the stark light of day, when the horror really became clear to the world. The reasons for the attack, in the minds of Islamic terrorists were to destroy life as much as possible, and I’m sure they thought they had succeeded. Yes, the people who died and their family, will never get over their loss. It just doesn’t work that way. It never goes away, but out of that tragedy, came something amazing too…the Lockerbie Heroes.
Lockerbie is a small town in Scotland, and something like this attack is unheard of. Such things seemed so far away, but as we all know, such things can come to small towns, and it is then that these little hamlets take center stage…sometimes for a short time, sometimes for years, and sometimes its forever. This small town took it upon themselves, to make a difference. Most of us would run away from the horror, or hide so we didn’t have to face it, but not the citizens of Lockerbie. Every member of this town turned out, and with no specific plan in place, they simply started to help. On that December day in 1988, a Pan Am flight had blown up, and hundreds of pieces of metal, random, objects, and body parts come raining out of the sky.
Most of us assume that we would go into state of panic, but the people of Lockerbie didn’t have time to panic. They were too busy diving into the wreckage to collect any personal items they might find. No, not to keep them or sell them on eBay, it was the 80’s after all. They did it simply to comfort the victim’s families. In order to store the tens of thousands of debris pieces that had been scattered over 845 square miles, the first thing the townspeople did was build a warehouse. Any items that weren’t of forensic value were left for the townspeople to organize. These The compassionate people of Lockerbie knew that they couldn’t hand them to the bereaved families looking so ugly. The reality was that seeing these items in the condition they were now, would be pure torture. The townspeople decided to perform an act of love and compassion. Working as a gigantic assembly line of washers and dryers and ironers and folders, the townspeople restored the countless items of clothing scattered across the charred, muddy, usually quite apocalyptic landscape. They developed rolls and film and put diaries back together to identify the owners, while any stray rings, wallets, and other effects were carefully matched up to the corresponding suitcase. In one instance, the State Department informed one family that they couldn’t have their daughter’s stuff back because it was “too badly damaged.” The people of Lockerbie scoffed at that and un-damaged it. What a gift. You can’t help but cry and the enormity of their kindness.
Before long, the relatives flocked to Lockerbie in order to be near to the site of the crash. The town opened its doors and took them in, setting the foundation for friendships that still survive today. Christmas cards are exchanged, letters are written, and families still journey to the town. It takes a lot of awesome to turn a town from “giant crater where my loved one died” to “place of friendship and comfort.” As the years have passed, the people coming aren’t as many, but the town of Lockerbie and the world remember each and every victim.