Lockerbie remembers 270 killed in plane bombing 30 years ago
22nd December 2018

Lockerbie remembers the 270 people killed when a passenger plane exploded over the town 30 years ago with a poignant wreath-laying ceremony

  • Today marks exactly 30 years since 259 passengers and 11 people on the ground died in Lockerbie, Scotland
  • The Pan Am Flight 103 from London to New York exploded over the town after a bomb detonated in a suitcase
  • Memorial service is taking place at the town’s Dryfesdale Cemetery where community is joined by dignitaries

The Scottish town of Lockerbie has fallen silent to remember the 270 people killed when a bombed Pan Am Flight 103 exploded and crashed there 30 years ago.

An emotional wreath-laying ceremony is taking place in the small town in Dumfries and Galloway today to mark the 30th anniversary of the disaster, which claimed the lives of all 259 passengers and 11 people on the ground.

The Queen sent her ‘prayers and good wishes’ to residents ahead of the service, which has seen Lockerbie come to a complete standstill and is taking place in the Memorial Garden at Dryfesdale Cemetery. 

The Scottish town of Lockerbie has fallen silent to remember the 270 people killed when a bombed Pan Am Flight 103 exploded and crashed there 30 years ago. Members of the community are pictured with their heads bowed at the Memorial Garden at Dryfesdale Cemetery in the town 

Jeff Browne, Moderator of the Presbytery of Annandale and Eskdale, led the service. 

He said: ‘Whether you have come from the local community or from afar, whether you come with no faith, little faith or belong to a community of faith, know that the Lockerbie community welcomes you in love and peace today and every day.’ 

The Queen’s representative Lord Lieutenant of Dumfries, Fiona Armstrong, offered locals this message of condolence as she laid the first wreath to the sound of a piper: ‘Please convey my warm thanks to the people of Dumfriesshire for their kind message, sent on the occasion of their Remembrance Service to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the Lockerbie bombing, which is being held today. 

‘I send my prayers and good wishes to all those who will be marking this solemn anniversary.’  

She was followed by Scotland’s Lord Advocate James Wolffe QC and Scottish Secretary David Mundell.

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Pupils from local schools and Scouts and Guides groups and representatives of the emergency services laid flowers before the families of victims approached the memorial. 

Reverend Susan Brown, Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, also spoke.

She said: ‘Scars from 30 years ago remain – they leave a mark that can never be removed, but while they will not disappear altogether and while we would never want to forget the horrendous cost of that single hateful act, we realise all the more acutely the sweetness of life and the need for it to be lived to the full.’

Mr Mundell, who grew up in Lockerbie, said: ‘On this 30th anniversary of the bombing of Flight 103 over Lockerbie, my thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends of the 270 men, women and children who perished on that terrible night, and everyone else whose life has been touched by the event.

Lord Advocate James Wolffe (left) and Scottish Secretray David Mundell (right) during the service and wreath-laying to mark the 30th anniversary of the Lockerbie bombing at the Memorial Garden, Dryfesdale Cemetery, Lockerbie

‘Lockerbie lost its anonymity that night. We went from a quiet, small town to a centre of global attention in a few seconds. 

‘That was the scale of the challenge local people have faced, aside from the horrors of the air disaster itself.

‘It has not been easy, nor have we been able to achieve the closure we would have wanted, even after 30 years.

‘However, throughout, the people in Lockerbie have retained their dignity and stoicism, and offered friendship and support to those who lost loved ones.’

The majority of those who died on the ill-fated London to New York flight were American, including 35 students from Syracuse University in New York State.

A similar memorial service of around 500 people will be held at the Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia where a cairn made from Lockerbie stone stands in memory of the victims. 

Floral tributes were laid at the cemetery in Lockerbie, Dumfries, Scotland where victims have their graves 

Prime Minister Theresa May tweeted to say her thoughts are with families of victims on the 30th anniversary.

She wrote: ‘Today we remember those who died in the Lockerbie bombing 30 years ago.

‘On this tragic anniversary, my thoughts are with the families of those who lost their lives and the Lockerbie community.’

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon also tweeted: ‘Thinking today of Lockerbie and all those whose lives were lost or deeply affected by what happened on this day 30 years ago. We will never forget.’

Pam Am Flight 103 was blown up by the detonation of an explosive stored in a suitcase in the plane hold.

Many believe the atrocity, the biggest case of mass murder on British soil in recent history, was committed in revenge for the downing of an Iran Air passenger flight by a US missile cruiser earlier in 1988.

A bunch of flowers is pictured placed on the graves of one of the victims in Lockerbie. It reads: ‘Missed more than words can say. We miss you more than we did then.’

More floral tributes are pictured at the Dryfesdale Cemetery in Lockerbie. This one reads: ‘To the victims of Pan Am 103’

The only person ever convicted of the bombing, former Libyan intelligence officer Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, died of cancer in  2012 after being released from jail on compassionate grounds.

His family and some relatives of the Lockerbie victims believe he was the victim of a miscarriage of justice and are fighting to clear his name.

The Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission is currently determining whether a fresh appeal against the conviction should proceed to the courts. 

Three decades on, the investigation into the bombing itself continues, with prosecutors pledging to track down Megrahi’s accomplices. 

Hundreds of badges with peace doves and the names of each of the 270 victims on them are being worn by the families 

The town of Lockerbie fell silent and was completely empty this morning ahead of the 30th anniversary memorial service 

The Union flag flies at half-mast outside Lockerbie Town Hall to mark the 30th anniversary of the disaster. The building was used as a mortuary on the night of the bombing when rescue workers started recovering bodies

‘The wall of flames was shocking, the devastation incredible’: 30 years after the Lockerbie disaster, one of the first firemen on the scene tells for the first time how a quiet night shift turned into a scene from a war zone 

 By Harry Fenton for The Daily Mail 

After six years in the army and three as a firefighter in Hertfordshire, Harry Fenton, from Bournemouth, moved to rural Scotland in 1985 to join the Dumfries and Galloway fire brigade.

Mr Fenton, then 29, was Sub-Officer on Red Watch at Dumfries fire station the night the bomb planted by Libyan intelligence officer Abdelbaset al-Megrahi destroyed Pan-Am Flight 103, killing 243 passengers, 16 crew, and 11 Scots in the little town onto which the jet crashed.

Here for the first time, he remembers the frantic drama and desperate devastation of that December night 30 years ago.

Harry Fenton, pictured centre on the night of the Lockerbie disaster in 1988. Today he writes for the first time of the frantic scramble to attend the scene, and the scale of the multiple infernos which greeted the hundreds of full-time and volunteer firemen who rushed to help

‘Ok lads, listen in’, I barked.

‘We have an exercise planned for tonight, nothing too serious as it’s nearly Christmas. End of exercise and back to the station about nine o’clock for clearing up and stand-down. A nice easy night.’

That was my brief to the watch after roll-call at 6pm. How wrong I would turn out to be.

On the night of 21st December 1988 there were a total of 13 firemen on duty at Dumfries fire station, manning two fire engines and an emergency tender loaded with cutting equipment and specialist rescue gear. A 100ft turntable-ladder was also available but was only deployed if high-rise buildings were involved.

The station officer on Red Watch was a reliable, unflappable type, experienced and very able to cope with most emergency situations. The watch was also led by two leading fireman and myself, the temporary Sub-Officer, responsible for training and in charge of a fire engine.

The remainder were a very typical bunch of firemen. A joker, a couple of moaners, several skilled old hands and a new lad desperate to be accepted by the others.

Dumfries and Galloway fire brigade has only one full-time station. Emergency cover across most of the region was provided by retained firemen. 

These tradesmen – all volunteers – who lived within five minutes of their local fire stations, were capable firefighters and skilled at dealing with road traffic accidents. They had to be – the incidents they attended were in their own communities and assistance was often at least 20 minutes away.

Mr Fenton said the town that night looked like ‘an urban war scene, where two sides had fought an action then pulled out, leaving carnage behind them but not totally destroying the battleground’

That evening, after the 6pm shift change and parade, I took the emergency tender to a derelict old people’s home in Dumfries. The evening was cold and still. Stars were shining brightly in the night sky above us as we set up our equipment.

The old people’s home was due to be knocked down and I had obtained permission to hold a training exercise in the building before the demolition. I rigged up a couple of smoke generators to make searching the building as realistic as possible. 

My driver helped me drag heavy canvas dummies into the building. The crews would search the building and attempt to locate and rescues the person-sized dummies. The last one to be positioned and always the hardest one to find was the child-sized dummy. Usually it was hidden in a cupboard or under a sofa.

We had just finished our task when I received a message from the Control Room operator: ‘Come in Harry, exercise aborted, please return to Dumfries fire station, a military airplane has crashed into a garage in Lockerbie’. 

We quickly turned off the smoke machines and drove rapidly back to base wondering what the night had in store for us.

I pulled in to the appliance bay to find the two fire engines had been dispatched to the incident and the retained crew for Dumfries were gathering together in the Station. 

They had been summoned from their homes by pager and once a full complement of six arrived they too headed to Lockerbie, blue lights flashing and horns blaring. The journey took about 18 minutes. 

The crew could have seen the red glow in the sky over Lockerbie as they approached but nothing could have prepared them for the sights that met them on arrival in the town.

When he arrived 12 or 14 houses were on ablaze in one road, from aviation fuel which had spilled from the doomed jet and caught light

Realising that we may have a major incident in progress I made two quick decisions. I told the next four retained firemen that arrived to load a truck with all of our 25litre containers of fire-fighting foam and then head for the incident.

I then grabbed hold of a full-time fireman who had turned up in response to the newsflash on the television. He was on sick leave but wanted to make himself useful anyway. 

I gave him a pen and sheet of paper, sat him in the Watchroom and told him to take the names of any other firemen reporting for duty and the time that they did so. Unfortunately, when the next few men turned up he joined them and drove to Lockerbie in a private car. 

This left us with no way of knowing who was attending the incident and how long they had been there. During the evening many more off-duty firemen arrived at Dumfries station to help out. They organised themselves into teams, picked up their gear and made their way to the scene in their own cars.

I decided to check the control room to see if the two staff working there needed a hand. This being 1988, and therefore pre-computerisation, the female controllers were doing everything manually. 


The Lockerbie bombing took place on December 21, 1988, when Pan Am Flight 103 was blown out of the sky.

The New York-bound Boeing 747, named Maid of the Seas, was passing five miles above the Scottish town when the explosion tore it apart.

When first reports of a crash came through, many assumed it was a low-flying military training flight which had come to harm.

Flight 103 went down three minutes after 7pm, about half an hour after take-off from Heathrow, as it passed over the town heading out to the west.

The terrible scene in the town after the plane crashed into residential streets in 1988

The flight was running slightly late and should already have been out over the Atlantic en route to New York.

The cockpit section fell to earth at Tundergarth, about five miles out of town, landing in a field in rolling countryside within yards of a country church and graveyard.

A fuselage section came down on streets in Rosebank, on the northern edge of the town.

Meanwhile, the fuel-laden wing section came down on the Sherwood area on the western edge of Lockerbie, adjoining the A74 road, now a motorway. As it came down it exploded in a fireball made worse by ruptured gas mains.

It was in this area, Sherwood Crescent, where 11 Lockerbie residents were killed. No trace was ever found of some of the victims, who were vaporised in the fireball.

Libyan intelligence officer Abdelbaset al-Megrahi was convicted in 2001. He was jailed for 27 years

Lockerbie’s Town Hall and its ice-rink were pressed into service as temporary mortuaries and within 24 hours of the disaster, a total of 1,000 police had been drafted in, along with 500 military helpers.

In the initial stages, 40 ambulances and 115 personnel attended at Lockerbie. They stood down shortly afterwards due to the minimal number of casualties, with all those involved in the tragedy either dead or having suffered minor injuries.

The bodies and wreckage had come down in two main flight corridors, one of which included the Kielder forest in Northumbria, the most densely-wooded part of the UK.

At the height the plane had been flying, winds were more than 100 knots. Some of the lighter pieces of wreckage were found miles away.

On the night of the crash, police made an immediate policy decision to treat the disaster as a criminal investigation.

Public confirmation of what had been suspected from the outset came on December 28, when investigators announced that traces of high explosive had been found and the plane had been brought down by a bomb.

A later fatal accident inquiry was to determine that the bomb was in a Toshiba radio-cassette player in a Samsonite suitcase which ‘probably’ joined the flight at Frankfurt in Germany.

Of the 259 passengers and crew – 150 men and 109 women – killed, 188 were Americans and 33 were British. The others came from 19 other countries including France, Germany, India, Sweden, Australia and Japan.

The 11 people who were killed on the ground – four males and seven females – were all British. 

Libyan intelligence officer Abdelbaset al-Megrahi was convicted in 2001 of the atrocity. He was jailed for 27 years but died of prostate cancer aged 60 in 2012 after being released on compassionate grounds in 2009. 

Earlier this year, a review of his conviction was announced. Some suspect he may have been made a scapegoat and that other Middle Eastern countries were involved in the terror attack. 

By now, messages had come back from the fireground that started to reflect the full size of the incident and the scene was quickly labelled a major disaster. 

Retained crews from across the region were mobilised, the ones nearest the incident were sent directly to it, and crews from further west were moved towards Dumfries to provide fire cover in their absence.

The hard-pressed controllers were working flat out under severe pressure. I was handed an index file and told to telephone the utilities and the council offices to inform them of the ongoing incident. 

I gave them a rough outline from what I knew and impressed on them all that it was indeed a major disaster and they needed to respond quickly and with significant resources.

The downing of Pan-Am Flight 103 killed 243 passengers, 16 crew, and 11 Scots in the little town onto which the jet crashed

The Firemaster, who lived close by, strode into the Control room looking very serious and, having been briefed by the senior controller, took command of the incident. At this stage it was still thought that the airplane involved was a military jet. No mention had been made of a passenger airliner.

He ordered me to take the Turntable Ladder (TTL) to the incident in case it was needed to carry out rescues from rooftops. I was delighted to be given the chance to get across to Lockerbie. I gathered up my firegear and slung it into a locker on the huge vehicle. 

I hadn’t driven the TTL since my promotion a year or so before but was a confident driver. An officer jumped in alongside me and started dressing himself as we pulled out of the appliance bay, bells ringing and blues flashing.

A few hundred yards from the fire station I tried to negotiate a difficult corner controlled by traffic lights and cut it a bit short. As I turned in my rear view mirror I could see the front of a Ford Orion being lifted off the ground by the back end of the TTL. I was only moving at about 5 miles an hour and decided the driver of the car probably wouldn’t be injured. 

The officer sat next to me was oblivious to the collision. I said nothing and instantly decided to press on to Lockerbie, hoping the occupant of the car would understand why I didn’t stop. (He did, not reporting the accident until several days later).

We could see a glow in the sky above the town as we approached and as we crossed the bridge over the M74 we were met by a truly amazing spectacle. A huge fire was burning to our right-hand side almost on the motorway itself. 

Smoke was billowing from this and many smaller fires around it. I parked the TTL down a side road and made my way towards the fire. The devastation in that part of the town was incredible. 

Twelve or fourteen of the houses were ablaze in one road. Aviation fuel had fallen onto their roofs and caught alight. Many of these fires had spread down into the rooms below. 

Debris from the impact of the wings and part of the fuselage had been blown up into the air and then landed in the streets roundabout, along with the contents of a house that was hit by the wreckage. I remember seeing a half a radiator sticking out of a flowerbed, the remainder had embedded itself deep into the ground. 

Everywhere underfoot, the ground was covered in a nine-inch-thick layer of earth, thrown up by the massive impact, mixed in with thousands of small pieces of aluminium – all tiny parts of the plane. 

The unmistakable smell of avgas, reminiscent of airport runways, was all-pervading, mixed with huge plumes of billowing smoke.

I was reminded of urban war scenes where two sides had fought an action then pulled out, leaving carnage behind them but not totally destroying the battleground. 

Who was Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset al-Megrahi?  

Former Libyian intelligence officer Abdelbaset al-Megrahi is the only person to have been convicted of involvement in the Lockerbie bombing which claimed 270 lives

Former Libyian intelligence officer Abdelbaset al-Megrahi is the only person to have been convicted of involvement in the Lockerbie bombing which claimed 270 lives. 

Was jailed in 2001 for his role in the attack which brought down Pan Am flight 103 on December 21, 1988, in what became the worst terrorist attack on British soil. 

The Boeing 747 jet took off from London Heathrow airport around 30 minutes before it exploded as it cruised at 31,000 feet above the Scottish borders. 

Al-Megrahi was convicted on the basis of evidence from Maltese shop owner Tony Gauci, who died in 2016 aged 75.   

Mr Gauci ran a clothes shop in Swieqi, Malta, at the time of the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 and claimed that Megrahi bought a piece of clothing found among the debris of the aircraft.

His evidence helped to secure the 2001 conviction of the former Libyan intelligence officer for the atrocity in which 270 people died, including 11 people on the ground.

But some doubts were subsequently raised about Mr Gauci’s reliability.

Megrahi was the only person to have been convicted of the bombing over the south of Scotland on December 21 1988.

He was jailed for life but an investigation by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) led to a finding in 2007 of six grounds where it is believed a miscarriage of justice may have occurred, paving the way for a second appeal.

The Libyan dropped that appeal in 2009 before being released from jail on compassionate grounds due to his terminal prostate cancer. He died protesting his innocence in Libya in 2012.

The trial judgment detailed how the three judges were satisfied Megrahi had walked into Mr Gauci’s shop and bought items of clothing which ended up packed around the bomb that exploded in a suitcase on board the flight.

Al-Megrahi, pictured here following his release from prison on compassionate grounds in 2009 claimed he was innocent of the crime

Small groups of firemen, in their old-style yellow legs and ‘donkey jackets’ were moving in and out of clouds of smoke, dragging firehoses behind them. Even though it was a dark mid-winter evening the whole fireground was illuminated by the many fires. 

Further down the road the biggest fire raged. I was tasked to chaperone a police video cameraman who was filming the scene, for evidential purposes. We walked carefully together towards the major conflagration and crept ever closer, bending low as we did so. 

We could feeling the searing heat through our uniforms and were shocked by the intense wall of flames coming out of the gaping hole in the ground. 

It was the size of two tennis courts end to end and 12 feet deep. We were the first to make our way to the crater and having seen the magnitude of it realised that a military jet couldn`t have caused such devastation.

I left the cameraman to his own devices when we moved away from the crater. I wanted to help with the search and rescue operations going on in the surrounding premises. Water supplies were almost non-existent as the main supply pipe to Lockerbie had been damaged by a jet engine falling onto it. 

Huge chunks of the plane crashed into homes and roads in the Scottish town of Lockerbie

One of the many heroes that night was the fireman that stayed with a lightweight fire pump all night, away from the action, ensuring that the firefighters at the scene were supplied throughout the incident with an alternative supply of water.

Because the devastation covered so many different parts of the town and surrounding hillsides there was very little overall command on the ground in the early stages. Crews relied on using their own initiative to search houses and put out the fires raging inside them and on the rooftops.

More and more firemen arrived during the evening, some from Dumfries and Galloway and others from Cumbria and Lothian and Borders. Dumfries and Galloway`s mobile control unit was eventually set up near the fireground which made communications easier with the men doing the fire-fighting.

I stayed in the vicinity of the crater most of the evening whereas most of Red Watch were deployed elsewhere in the town. Gradually we dealt with the fires and a semblance of order was established.  

Three decades of doubt: 30 years later there are still unanswered questions over Lockerbie

December 21, 1988

Pan Am Flight 103 from Frankfurt to Detroit, via London and New York, blows up over Lockerbie in Scotland. A total of 270 people died

November 1991

Britain and the US accuse Libyans Abdelbaset Al-Megrahi and Al Amin Khailifa Fhimah of the bombing.

However, Libyan authorities deny involvement

January 1995 

MPs demand an inquiry after US intelligence suggests Iran was behind the bombing, instead of Libya

January 2001 

Megrahi was convicted of mass murder while Fhimah is found not guilty

August 2003 

The UN lifts sanctions on Libya. Blame was accepted in Tripoli and the government compensates families of the victims

August 2009

Megrahi is freed after being diagnosed with prostate cancer. 

He did not die until 2012  

May 2018

A review of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi’s conviction for the bombing is to be carried out by the Scottish Criminal Cases Commission  

November 2018 

The Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission says there was no criminality in the Megrahi case

Whilst liaising with the control room staff, I moved through an undamaged part of the town to let them know the situation on the fireground. As I passed some shops I came across a body lying face up on the pavement. 

There were no signs of injury, though the young man was obviously deceased. He was the first intact dead person I saw that night, and I was struck by the walking boots he was wearing. 

He was dressed similarly to – in fact he looked like – many of my friends. The chap was probably going home to his family for Christmas. As I walked on, a policeman arrived and covered him with a blanket.

Hard work from the fire crews gradually turned the tide against the flames. Eventually we were summoned to a briefing that took place about 11pm. The drained firemen were spoken to by a senior officer who stood on top of a fire engine so that he could be seen. 

There were about two hundred of us milling around with blackened faces, all talking loudly and full of adrenaline and pleased to see that our colleagues were okay. 

Most of the firemen were ordered to go home to get some rest. They needed to be fresh the next morning and there wasn’t much they could do now that most of the fires were extinguished.

The Salvation Army had arrived on the scene fairly early on. I still remember that the mug tea I drank courtesy of the Sally Army during the briefing that night was the best I had ever tasted.

Those of us that stayed overnight at the incident carried out tasks damping down the remaining fires and searching for bodies. The police warned us that potential looters were roaming around the site, something we found quite shocking. 

Young soldiers and airmen, I think from training regiments, began to be organised into search teams to scour the hillsides for human remains. We felt sorry for them as their task was not a pleasant one and unlike most of us, they hadn’t any previous experience of that sort of thing.

At first light we began to take in the sheer enormity of the devastation. I walked around the streets and realised that the fuselage had come down between two rows of houses, a very near miss for so many town dwellers. The amount of airplane wreckage was quite astounding. 

Scattered everywhere were pieces of broken and twisted aluminium, some pieces as big as cars with wires wrapped around them, while rags of clothing hung on the sharp edges. 

Evidence of travellers baggage lay in the mud. Suitcases, rucksacks and books were mixed in with the aircraft debris. It was quite horrific to view the possessions of the poor passengers and think of what they had been through a few hours previously.

Soon after 8am the day shift from Dumfries arrived to relieve us. We climbed exhausted and hungry into our transport and travelled back to base in virtual silence, alone with our thoughts.

After putting away my firegear I drove home listening to the rolling news coverage about the disaster. Stopping at the Newsagent for a paper I realised my face was still black from the night`s exertions.

‘Some night’, said the man behind the counter. I nodded, but said nothing. 

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