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Pan Am Flight 103 was a regular scheduled flight, which flew from Frankfurt International Airport in Frankfurt am Main, Hesse, Germany, to Heathrow Airport in London, England, United Kingdom, then to John F. Kennedy International Airport in Jamaica, Queens, New York, New York, United States.
The Pan Am Flight 103 disaster, also known as the Lockerbie disaster or the Lockerbie air disaster was the destruction of the airplane flying this route, via the explosion of a bomb on board the airplane travelling on the London to New York leg on the evening of December 21, 1988. Everyone on board was killed, as were 11 people on the ground.
The airplane was N739PA, the Maid of the Seas, a Boeing 747-121.
Theories on how the bomb was smuggled on board
It is unknown how the bomb made its way onto the airplane. One theory states that it may have been a "proxy-bomb", which would have been checked in by a passenger on the flight. The carrier may have been carrying a "gift" from a conspirator, or the carrier may have been a "mule", who knowingly smuggles something but is tricked into thinking that the object he or she is smuggling is something else, e.g. diamonds or illegal drugs.
Another theory speculates that it was an unaccompanied device that was checked in by another person who said that he wanted his baggage to go on a different flight.
Another theory states that it would have been smuggled airside and slipped into a container of luggage bound for the flight. In this case, the conspirator would have had an airside security pass and the luggage would have been tagged for Flight 103.
The bomb was a 312 gram Semtex-H bomb. The amount of Semtex was equivalent to about six hand grenades. The bomb was powered by one large battery.
The bomb triggered by a barometric trigger set for 8,000 feet of pressure. The sensor came from an aneroid barometer, and it started a timer. It is unknown exactly how long the timer was set for. Four hours is the approximate amount of time the timer was set for. The device was concealed inside the cassette-play motor of a Toshiba portable radio and cassette player inside a Samsonite suitcase. The bomb had been loaded into the forward cargo compartment in Frankfurt.
One theory on the reason why the timing would be set to four hours is because, the timing would have set the bomb to explode when the plane was over the Atlantic Ocean. If this happened, the plane would have vanished over the ocean, so that nobody else but the conspirators would know exactly what happened to the plane.
The plane was one hour behind schedule, so the bomb exploded sooner in flight.
About 30 minutes into the flight to New York, the bomb exploded, causing the plane to blow apart. The in-flight breakup killed the 243 passengers and 16 crew members in a fraction of one second. The breakup then caused the deaths of 11 people on the ground near the Scottish town of Lockerbie, Dumfries and Galloway. Debris and body parts were scattered over a large area.
It remains somewhat unclear both who was responsible, and the motives for the attack, despite the conviction of one suspect. Some believe terrorists connected with Abu Nidal were responsible. The British and American governments publicly blamed the PFLP-GC, a Palestinian terrorist group backed by Syria. Naturally, there were conspiracy theories too.
A British investigation concluded on November 14, 1991 that two Libyans, Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi, a senior officer in Libya's intelligence service, and Al Amin Khalifa Fhimah, were responsible, and they were charged with murder and with conspiracy to destroy an aircraft and to murder its occupants. The indictment stated that the two, in Malta, placed the suitcase on an Air Malta flight destined for Frankfurt, and had tagged the suitcase so that it would then be carried on Flight 103 from Frankfurt onward. It alleged that the Libyan Intelligence Services had provided the electronic timers, plastic explosives, and even the cassette players to the two and to other agents.
Much needed to be decided about how the two could possibly be tried. (Libya had not been on friendly terms with these two nations since the 1986 bombardment of Tripoli by American planes based in Britain.) Libya refused to hand over the two suspects, resulting in UN sanctions being imposed beginning in 1992.
In 1998, as several countries started to ignore the sanctions, the Libyan government conceded to a trial in a "neutral" country. The solution was to try the men in the Netherlands under Scottish law, at Camp Zeist, a location that would be declared Scottish territory for the duration of the trial. The parties finally agreed, and in August 1998 the sanctions were suspended.
The two suspects were handed over on April 5, 1999, the trial began on May 3, 2000 and a verdict was reached on January 31, 2001. The trial was overseen by three judges, Lords Sutherland, McLean and Coulsfield. There was no jury.
Al Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison, with a recommendation that he serve at least 20 years. Al Amin Khalifa Fhimah was found not guilty. Al Megrahi appealed against the verdict, but this was rejected on March 14, 2002 and he was moved to Barlinnie Prison in Glasgow.
There have been calls for a fresh appeal, and for Al Megrahi to serve his sentence in a Muslim country. A commission from the Organisation of African Unity criticised the basis of Al Megrahi's conviction. In June 2002 Nelson Mandela showed his sympathy by visiting him in prison.
In October 2002 it was reported that the Libyan government had made a compensation offer of $2.7 billion, about $10 million per victim. Then on August 15, 2003 Libya formally accepted responsibility for the bombing, but the statement consisted of general language that many people felt lacked an expression of remorse for the lives lost. Some people have also charged that the acceptance is a business deal aimed at removing economic sanctions and not a true admission of guilt.
On 24 November 2003, as required by European law, the Scottish High Court set Al-Megrahi's tariff (the length of time he must serve before becoming eligible for parole) at 27 years, backdated to his detention in 1999.