The Pan Am Flight 103 (Lockerbie Disaster)


ThePan Am Flight 103 (Lockerbie Disaster)

ThePan Am Flight 103 (Lockerbie Disaster)

Crimescene investigation is one of the most fundamental aspects in thecontemporary human society as far as administration of justice isconcerned. Indeed, it has always been acknowledged that the scenewhere a particular crime takes place usually holds clues that wouldallow for the determination and apprehension of the culprits. Thishas necessitated immense investment in to research and development inthe field so as to come up with new techniques that would allow forquick, accurate and efficient determination of the crime and itsperpetrators. Of course, it has well been acknowledged that crimescenes are never the same. Recent times have seen an increase interrorism, mostly where explosives are used. It has well beenacknowledged that crimes involving explosives are sometimes the mostdifficult to investigate especially in instances where a firesubsequently erupts since crucial evidence could be destroyed. Thiswas the likely or potential case in the Pan Am Flight 103 LockerbieDisaster of 1988.

PanAm Flight 103 Lockerbie Disaster of 1988

On21stDecember 1988, the Pan American flight 103 Boeing 747 left Londonheading to New York City. In the course of its ascent on northerlyflight path, the plane exploded over Lockerbie town in the Gallowayand Dumfries region of Southwest Scotland (Spies,2003).This explosion or “accident” resulted in the deaths of 270 peoplefrom 21 different countries. These included 259 passengers andcrewmembers, as well as 11 people who were on the ground when theairplane crashed. The 11 deaths were hit by the falling planedebris.


Needlessto say, the aircraft explosion triggered an immense and expansiveinvestigation, with investigators from different countriescollaborating to determine the cause and possibly the culprit in thecrime. Indeed, the Lockerbie bombing was subject to the largestcriminal inquiry in Britain led by the minutes police force TheDumfries and Galloway Constabulary (Spies,2003).This is especially considering that the incident was seen as anaffront or assault on the United States symbol since 189 of thevictims were Americans.

Thedetermined investigations that took more than 11 years amounted to ajigsaw puzzle assembly by a large number of cooperating intelligence,law enforcement, as well as legal personnel from many countries(Spies,2003).This investigation was primarily carried out by the Dumfries andGalloway Constabulary, as well as the Federal Bureau ofInvestigation. On the same note, the United States federal AviationAdministration carried out an immediate analysis of this airplane,which involved a search of fingertips on the site of the crash,satellite imaging and helicopter surveys (Spies,2003).

Sincethe incident was fundamentally large-scale, the area underinvestigation was extremely expansive. Indeed, it created the largestscene of crime in the entire globe as it stretched for over 1200square miles. In essence, the investigators had to painstakinglypiece together every part of the wreckage found within that area.This painstaking investigation allowed investigators to identifytrace amounts of explosives that enabled them to confirm that thiswas not a mere accident rather it was a terrorist attack.

Somemonths after the plane crashed and even the end of the formal effortsfor recovering evidence a CIA electronics expert came across a pieceof scorched shirt. This piece incorporated a fragment or piece of thecircuit board that the heat resulting from the explosion had fused tothe polyester fabric of the shirt. This circuit board fragment wasphotographed and a copy passed to the CIA where the Directorate ofScience and Technology (DS&ampT) electronics expert noted that thefragment bore resemblance to components of Libyan terrorist attacktimers. This fragment was subjected to more analysis, which revealedthat it was an exact matching part of a timer circuit that wasspecifically manufactured for Libyans.

Onthe same note, the investigation had to be turned to the satelliteimages and communication between the airplane crew and the radar. Itwas revealed that no emergency procedures had been made, nor wasthere any distress signal. Further, the explosion of the plane wasconsistent with a bomb that must have been located on the forwardcargo hold, and had made a 20-Inch wide puncture on the fuselage’sleft side thereby resulting in the speedy disintegration of theaircraft (Bennettet al, 2007).It was apparent that the perpetrators had aimed at crashing the planeright into the sea so as to destroy any evidence that could be usedin the investigations. Luckily, this did not happen, in which casethere was a possibility of identifying the responsible individuals.

Theinvestigators also carried out an extensive search in the baggagearea of this aircraft and came across fragments of a Samsonitesuitcase, which was believed to have been carrying the bomb. On thesame note, there were pieces of a circuit board pertaining to aToshiba Bombeat radio cassette player alongside shards of babycloses, which investigations revealed were made in Malta (Pepper,2010).Investigators traced back the baby clothes to Toby Gauci, a merchantwho stated that the clothes had been sold to a Libyan man.

Thetimer and circuit board, on the other hand, were traced back to aSwiss manufacturer called Mebo, who stated that they had been sold toa Libyan man called Abdelbaset Ali Mohamed Al Megrahi. This is thesame man who Gauci stated had bought the clothes.

Furtherinvestigations showed that the bag had been placed onto the PanAmerican 103 flight through the baggage system at Frankfurt at thetime when bags were offloaded from flight KM189 that came from Malta(Pepper,2010).On the same note, a security guard named Ray Manley reported that thePan American baggage area at Heathrow had been broken into around 17hours prior to the flight although the report of the incident hadbeen misplaced.

Followingthe investigations, British and U.S investigators indicted LibyansAbdelbaset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi and Al Amin Khalifa Fhimah of thebombing and subsequent murder of the 270 people in 1991. These weresaid to be Libyan intelligence agents, but, unfortunately, Libyadeclined to hand over the suspects for trial in Scottish courts. Thisresulted in sanctions being imposed on the country (Bennettet al, 2007).Efforts by Libya to offer that the two are tried in Libya by Britishand American judges were not accepted. Eventually, the suspects werehanded over to the United Nations in 1999 so that they could be triedin Netherlands leading to the suspension of Libyan sanctions.However, only Al Megrahi was convicted for the crime and sentenced tolife in prison while Fhimah was acquitted. Al Megrahi, however, wasreleased in August 2009 on compassionate grounds as he was hadterminal prostate cancer (Pepper,2010).


Bennett,B. T., &amp Wiley InterScience (Online service).(2007).&nbspUnderstanding,assessing, and responding to terrorism: Protecting criticalinfrastructure and personnel.Hoboken, N.J: Wiley-Interscience.

Pepper,I. K. (2010).&nbspCrimescene investigation: Methods and procedures.Maidenhead: Open University Press.

Spies,K. B. (2003).&nbspPanAm flight 103: Terrorism over Lockerbie.Berkeley Heights, NJ, USA: Enslow Publishers.