Lockerbie and Abdelbaset Ali Mohammad al Megrahi
Just after 7 pm on Wednesday 21st December 1988 Pan American World Airways flight 103 exploded over Lockerbie in Scotland, killing 259 passengers and crew and 11 people on the ground. There is a great deal of information in the public domain about this event and the victims’ relatives must hope that much of the speculation it has generated is soon resolved. Abdelbaset al Megrahi, who died yesterday in Libya, was the only person convicted of causing the explosion.
British and US air accident investigators concluded that the Pan American flight 103Boeing 747-121 had been destroyed by a Semtex bomb enclosed in a Toshiba Bombeat cassette recorder packed in a brown Samsonite type suitcase which had been loaded in a container in the forward hold. The timing device which triggered the explosion was said to have been traced back to Libya.
Al Megrahi was convicted of inserting this bag into the airline baggage carrying system at Luqa airport in Malta from whence it found its way to Heathrow via Frankfurt and thence into the forward hold of the Boeing 747. I remain surprised that this was the method used to get the bomb onto PA103 as there were too many opportunities for the bag in which it was contained to have gone astray or to be delayed on rout from Malta to Heathrow. However, it is interesting to compare – and few commentators seem to be doing so – the story of Pan Am 103 with the case of Union des Transports Aériens flight number 772 which was blown up in 1989. This has been called the forgotten flight.
On 19th September 1989 a DC 10 of the French airline UTA, flight number 772, was flying from N’Djamena International Airport in Congo Brazzaville to Paris. It exploded over the Sahara desert in southern Niger, killing 170 people. The wreckage was sent to France where air accident investigators found traces of an explosive called pentrite in the forward hold. Pentrite is mixed with other compounds to form Semtex. A dark grey Samsonite suitcase was found covered with a layer of pentrite. The suitcase had been loaded at Brazzaville. Part of a timing device was found. It was traced back to Libya. A court in Paris tried and convicted six Libyans in absentia of causing the explosion.
There is a great deal we have yet to learn about these two atrocities.