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At 19:02 Greenwich Mean Time, on December 21, 1988, a terrorist bomb was detonated on board Pan Am Flight 103, a Boeing 7474-100 carrying 243 passengers and 16 crew members moving at a speed of 580 kilometers per hour. The explosion took place over Scotland, and the plane crashed into the town of Lockerbie, taking an additional 11 lives.

How did it happen?

According to both the Scottish authorities and the American FBI, Abdel Basset Ali al-Mehrahi and Lamin Khalifah Fhimah were responsible for placing an explosive device aboard the 747 via an unaccompanied bag which originated in Malta. The bomb was carried in a Samsonite suitcase, and concealed within a radio cassette player. The type of explosive used was identified as Semtex. The force of the explosion blew a hole in the aircraft’s fuselage while it was traveling at 9,400 meters above sea level, which caused the jet to break up in mid-air. The disintegration of the plane was quite rapid, and the crew had no time to initiate emergency procedures. The initial hole created by the explosion was 0.51 meters wide.  Large pieces of the plane rained down upon the town of Lockerbie, Scotland, destroying homes and causing enormous jet fuel fires.


All occupants of the 747 were killed either by the explosion or the impact, along with several families on the ground, bringing the casualty total to 270. The fireball was reported by another commercial jet in the area, and it also registered on local seismological equipment. 21 homes surrounding the crash site were damaged to such a degree that they could not be repaired. Citizens of Lockerbie were further traumatized by the ongoing investigation of the crash site, which left bodies and wreckage strewn about the streets and countryside in order to accommodate the forensics teams of the agencies involved.


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