Remembering Pan Am Flight 103: 30 Years Later
The bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 December 21, 1988 sent a shock wave around the world. In many ways, the reverberations are still being felt today.
Carole Johnson, Mother of Pan Am Flight 103 Victim Beth Ann Johnson: I was working a crossword puzzle, relaxed in the car, not thinking about much of anything, just this puzzle. And here comes a clue: A now erstwhile U.S. airline. Answer: Pan Am.
There really is no escape. No matter what you’re doing, there’s always a reminder.
Harry Bell, Detective Chief Inspector (Retired), Dumfries and Galloway Constabulary: There’s so many things that come up that remind you of Pan Am 103. It comes up on the clock—1:03. It’s there all the time.
Title slide: Thirty years ago, on December 21, 1988, Pan Am Flight 103 was blown out of the sky by a terrorist bomb over the Scottish town of Lockerbie.
Title slide: Onboard the aircraft were citizens of 21 countries, including 189 Americans.
Title slide: On the ground, 11 residents of Lockerbie were killed when pieces of the plane plunged into homes in the small farming community.
Title slide: For the FBI, working alongside Scottish partners, the case became a watershed event that changed how the Bureau handles international terrorism cases and assists victims of crimes.
Title slide: For the families who lost loved ones, for investigators and individuals who responded to the disaster, and for those dedicated to keeping alive the memory of Pan Am Flight 103, there is no forgetting December 21, 1988.
Johnson: I'm Carole G. Johnson, mother of Beth Ann Johnson, age 21. Beth had gone to England to study for a semester abroad and was returning home on December 21, 1988, when the plane, Pan Am Flight 103, reached a cruising altitude of 31,000 feet, and something went horribly wrong. It landed in six pieces in Lockerbie, Scotland. And just as that plane shattered, our lives were shattered.
Dick Marquise, Special Agent (Retired) FBI: The magnitude of that crash never really hit home to most people in the United States. I don't know that it hit home to most people in the FBI. In order for anybody to get a full appreciation and feel for what happened, I think that someone had to go there and look at a crime scene—a crash site—that was 845 square miles. It was the first time that the FBI was involved working with other agencies, with other governments, to resolve—to investigate and eventually resolve a major international terrorist attack against Americans.
Title slide: The Bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, 30 Years Later, Still Actively Seeking Justice
David Jardine, Scottish Fire and Rescue Service: Just after seven o’clock, the emergency call came in. And that’s when the onset of Lockerbie began. We could see the glow in Lockerbie, and we knew there was a very, very serious incident here.
Stuart Cossar Detective Inspector, Police Scotland: It was completely unprecedented. There was not an emergency plan as such at the time. People were turning up for duty that had just finished, you know, doing a 10-hour shift, for example, but were prepared to come back out and work again right through the night.
Alex Smith, Detective (Retired), Dumfries and Galloway Constabulary: The problem was the impact had fractured all the water mains. So the fire service that did attend and came in pretty quickly could do nothing other than use the water that was contained in their vehicles, which is next to nothing, you know. The pumps wouldn’t work.
George Stobbs, Inspector (Retired), Lockerbie Police: As I got into this area, there was a great roaring noise and flames coming out of a great big hole in the ground and dense, dense smoke. Terrific heat. I actually saw a wrought iron gate melting. It was like it was made of butter, and it was dripping.
Cossar: All emergency services were fantastic: The fire service, ambulance service, doctors and nurses gave up their own time to come back out to try and treat the wounded—unfortunately, that didn’t materialize. There were only one or two walking wounded from Lockerbie itself. But the whole community just pulled together, and I think … I would like to think that we are not unique in that. I think if it had happened anywhere, you would see the same thing happening, whether it be in the United States or in the United Kingdom.
Title slide: The Investigation
Marquise: When I look at what the police collected, and you think about a crime scene—we are talking about fields and streams and mountains and houses and buildings—845 square miles that the police picked up evidence. And those police officers that did it, quite honestly, the majority of them didn't know what terrorism was. They had never faced it, they had never worked it, they had never seen a crime scene of that magnitude. Certainly many of them had probably worked murder cases with a very small crime scene, but they had never faced that.
Tom McCullough, Detective Chief Superintendent (Retired), Dumfries and Galloway Constabulary: I felt sorry for some of the young soldiers who were coming in, because these were kids who were maybe 17 or 18, maybe never even seen a dead body. But they were thrust into this and did a good job.
Marquise: They did an incredible job that I don't know that anybody, including the FBI, could have replicated with the circumstances that they had to deal with. If the police officer that picked up that evidence had not paid attention to detail, picked up everything as their chief, a man named John Boyd, told them to do. He said, “Unless it's growing there, I want you to go out, pick it up, document it as evidence, and bring it back in.” And the fragments that they were bringing back in ended up being crucial to the solution of the case.
Bell: There was a piece of the metal twisted, and when he opened and picked it up, this fell out. And he realized it was a piece of circuit board.
Marquise: That fragment led to the identification of the maker of the circuit board—only 20 of which were ever made in history, all built for the Libyan intelligence service. But it would take some time before we got there. But attention to detail, to me, is key. Sharing information and paying attention to even the smallest detail helped solve that case. And to me, that was another very important lesson of Lockerbie.
Title slide: In May 2000, the trial of two Libyan suspects convened in a specially designed Scottish court on a former U.S. military base in the Netherlands.
Kathryn Turman, Assistant Director, Victim Services Division, FBI: It was 11 years after the bombing. People had gone through a lot of different life experiences since then. Many still were grieving, others had found a way to kind of put their lives back together, but almost everyone had an avid interest in the trial.
Marquise: In about 1998, when the Lockerbie trial was still a dream, I talked to her about it. And she was in charge of victim witnesses over DOJ, and I was running the program for the FBI. And she and I talked about it, and she told me that day that she, well, she said, “If this trial takes place, I want to do something for the victims.”
Turman: My task was to figure out how to support 270 families through a trial in another country under another country—a third country's law. So it presented a lot of challenges. The families were from 21 different countries. Most of them were American. Many were British. But they were literally from the Philippians to Germany to Belgium to Italy, Canada, all over. So, we had to figure out how to make that trial accessible.
McCullough: When Kathryn became involved, we developed what I would consider to be the victim strategy for managing the victims, their expectations, keeping them informed. And it was a joint effort, but driven by Kathryn.
Turman: We started putting together a plan to try to do closed-circuit video of the trial. And that was unheard of in Scottish law. They had never even considered it.
McCullough: This had never, ever been done in a Scottish court. We very much had a tradition where the court building was sacrosanct. We didn’t disclose a great deal of material to victims for fear that it would somehow damage the investigation. And we had to have another look at ourselves.
Turman: I met with the lord advocate in Scotland at the time, and the solicitor general. They were very supportive of the idea of trying to do some sort of a closed-circuit feed of the trial, and were able to pitch it to the high court of the justiciary. And they actually agreed. And, in effect, we created, worked with Scottish court service to create extensions of the Scottish court in London, Scotland, and New York and Washington, so families could come to those sites to watch some of the trial.
McCullough: You know, if I was to perhaps see that something positive that came out of this was the recognition or the realization that we needed to have a victim strategy for Scotland. We needed to have something positive that we could offer victims of crime. We’ve now got a national service, Victim Support Scotland. So that was something positive that came out of it.
Title slide: The bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 and the ensuing trial laid the groundwork for the development of the FBI's Victim Services Division.
Title slide: Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi was convicted on January 31, 2001, for his role in the bombing.
Title slide: A second suspect, Lamen Khalifa Fhimah, was found not guilty and released.
Marquise: Probably the biggest regret that I have is that we did not get everybody.
Cossar: This still remains the largest terrorist attack in the United Kingdom. Two-hundred-seventy people lost their lives. And I think for the families, it’s extremely important that we as an organization do what we can to try and bring to justice those that were responsible for it. We know, for example, that there are people still alive in Libya who played a part in the conspiracy to kill. And it’s our duty and our responsibility to try and bring those people to justice.
It’s not about trying to secure further evidence in relation to Megrahi. It's about trying to establish who was responsible for the perpetration, the planning, and the preparation of the entire incident.
Marquise: I think about those people that have given a great deal of themselves. They lost—whether it's a son, daughter, brother, husband, wife—they've all lost somebody. And they looked to the FBI, they look to the U.S. government: “What are you going to do for us?”
Mike McGarrity, Assistant Director, Counterterrorism Division, FBI: We don't forget. We play the short game and the long game. We certainly look to bring people to justice, bring them back for the families, for the victims themselves, and for society who expects us to do so.
Cossar: This has always been regarded as a joint investigation with our FBI colleagues. We share information regularly. We have regular face-to-face meetings, whether it be in the U.S or in Scotland. That sharing of information is probably the most important part of the investigation itself.
Marquise: I know FBI agents. They have a commitment to seeing this through and making sure that somebody pays for this.
Turman: The FBI remembers. We have a long memory, and we keep cases open for many, many years and decades. As long as there's a possibility of ever bringing someone else to justice or getting more information that could help fill in the story for families, I think we need to keep doing that.
Title slide: “The case is not closed. The investigation will continue until any individual who played a role in this tragedy is brought to justice.” - Robert S. Mueller, Acting Deputy Attorney General, January 31, 2001
Mary Kay Stratis, Wife of Pan Am Flight 103 Victim Elia Stratis, Chair - Victims of Pan Am Flight 103, Inc.: I find it encouraging that their presence means to me that we haven’t fallen off the back burner. We’re still on their minds. It’s still an open case, and I know the FBI is still working with the Scottish Crown Office. They send us emails and updates when they can with the information they can. And that’s very encouraging. We’re 30 years hence.
Title slide: Every year, families of the victims gather, along with others affected by the bombing, to commemorate their loss.
Title slide: Syracuse University lost 35 students in the bombing. The school honors their memories with a permanent Pan Am Flight 103 archive, exhibits, and recognition each October of 35 Remembrance Scholars.
Vanessa St. Oegger-Menn, Pan Am Flight 103 Archivist and Assistant University Archivist, Syracuse University: I believe our freshmen this year are the last set of freshmen that we are going to have that were born before 9/11. So for them, Pan Am 103 and the history of the disaster and just what the experience was like of something like that happening in 1988 is completely foreign.
We’re trying to do more and more with the collections to make sure that people don't forget, and that the fact that this really was a watershed event. It was something that I think for a lot of folks introduced them to this concept of terrorism, and that it was something that could happen to someone just like you.
Katie Berrell, Pam Am Flight 103 Remembrance Scholar, Syracuse University: When you make the commitment to be a Scholar, it’s not just for the week—you are a Scholar forever, essentially, you are a part of that community. But while it’s about the students and the people who died and mourning their loss and coping with that as a community, it’s also about acting forward in their memory and educating people about, you know, what’s going on in the world. This isn’t something that’s just happening far away from us; it’s not something that’s gone away 30 years later. It’s still happening. And I think that’s the really important message that comes out of it all.
Title: Katie Berrell's uncle, Steven, was a Syracuse student returning home from a semester in London aboard Pan Am Flight 103.
Eileen Monetti, Mother of Pan Am Flight 103 Victim Richard MonettI: Those are letters that many of the Remembrance Scholars have written to the people that they represent.
Syracuse University Students: Oh, yeah.
Monetti: What year are you girls in?
Students: We’re sophomores.
Monetti: Sophomores, okay.
Kara Weipz, Sister of Pan Am Flight 103 Victim Richard Monetti, President – Victims of Pan Am Flight 103, Inc.: I think that we have a generation of kids that don’t necessarily learn about it and can learn from the positives and the negatives that have happened with it. You never want your loved one to be forgotten. And I think that that’s a big thing, too, and that’s what I try to instill into my children. And that I hope that all 270 victims are never forgotten and are remembered. And remembered in the way that we act and the way that we treat people, in the way that we conduct ourselves, and in the way we protect each other.
Glenn Johnson, Father of Pan Am Flight 103 Victim Beth Ann Johnson: I think that over the years we have effected a lot of change for security. We've worked with several airline disasters, working with the survivors’ families. All of this, I think, has brought and helped so many people survive. So I think that we have accomplished a lot. And that, to me, is how I have been able to handle it. Everyone is different.
Stratis: I have several academic scholarships set up in my husband’s name. And I’m still asked, 30 years later, to present them at the different schools where they are. I can continue that. And that’s the good that can come out of this. And so that helps the memory not fade—the good that can come out of something like this.
Turman: I've watched as younger generations of the Pan Am 103 families have stepped up to take leadership positions and become more involved. And I think most of all, I’ve always—there's a saying that the dead are still with us as long as someone speaks their name. So I think that's one of the things that we do in the FBI, and we do well, is we speak their names.
Smith: We’ve all heard of Lockerbie. Yeah. Again, for all the wrong reasons. So, it put Lockerbie on the map, and hopefully Lockerbie has responded to that. Well, I know they have. They’ve embraced what happened to us. And although they would just quietly like to get along with business and don’t make a fuss about it, the fact that some quite poignant memorials have been erected and the dignity of the whole disaster has been kept intact. Quite, quite proud of the Lockerbie people, actually.
- 02.20.2024 — Seeking Information: Jenna Franks
- 02.16.2024 — Deputy Director Paul Abbate Statement on LockBit Ransomware Group
- 02.14.2024 — Romance Scams, Revisited
- 02.14.2024 — FBI New Haven - FLEYA - Future Law Enforcement Youth Academy
- 02.13.2024 — FBI Salt Lake City Warns of Romance Scams
- 02.13.2024 — Search For Asha Continues
- 02.13.2024 — Military Romance Scams
- 02.08.2024 — Run, Hide, Fight – Safe in Schools
- 02.08.2024 — Securing the Super Bowl
- 02.08.2024 — Las Vegas Bomb Tech Talks Super Bowl Prep
- 01.30.2024 — Operation Dead Hand B-Roll
- 01.26.2024 — Inside the FBI Podcast: Top Ten Fugitive Vitel'Homme Innocent
- 01.22.2024 — FBI Detroit Financial Sextortion PSA
- 01.22.2024 — FBI Sacramento Citizen's Academy
- 01.19.2024 — Salt Lake Sextortion PSA
- 01.12.2024 — PSA: Financial Sextortion is a Crime (Horizontal Format)
- 01.12.2024 — PSA: Financial Sextortion is a Crime (Vertical Format)
- 01.09.2024 — FBI Salt Lake Hate Crimes PSA - Farsi Language
- 01.09.2024 — FBI Salt Lake Hate Crimes PSA - Turkish Language
- 01.09.2024 — FBI Salt Lake Hate Crimes PSA - Dari Language