Monday, 28 December 2015

Pan Am 103 destroyed by "detonation of high explosive"

[On this date in 1988 Mick Charles, the AAIB inspector in charge of the Pan Am 103 investigation, announced that the aircraft had been destroyed by the detonation of high explosive. What follows is excerpted from a statement made in the House of Commons on 10 January 1989 by the Secretary of State for Transport, Paul Channon:]

On 28 December, the inspector in charge of the accident investigation at Lockerbie announced that the aircraft had been destroyed by the detonation of high explosive. A team from my air accident investigation branch, assisted by people from the local emergency services and armed forces, has been working to find out where in the aircraft the bomb was placed. The chief inspector of air accidents is today issuing a bulletin that narrows the area to that of the No. 1 cargo and baggage hold just forward of the wing. It is too early to say yet where the article containing the explosive orginated.

It may help the House if I explain how the investigation is organised. Because the incident happened in his area, the chief constable of Dumfries and Galloway is in charge of the police investigation under the supervision of the procurator fiscal. The chief investigating officer is a chief superintendent of the Strathclyde police, and he is being given extensive assistance by other police forces in this country, including the metropolitan police, and by the FBI both in Lockerbie and in the United States. The investigators here have close links with the German police who are investigating the incident in Frankfurt, and other authorities in Europe and elsewhere who may be able to help to trace the movements of the passengers and their contacts immediately beforehand. (...)

It is essential that we discover who put the bomb on the aircraft and how it got there. We must await the progress of the investigation. The signs of the use of a high performance plastic explosive—which was very probably, but not certainly, Semtex—point to a well-organised and well-supplied terrorist group. If that proves to be the case, I am sure that the House will join the Government and the Governments of most nations to condemn not only the despicable murderers themselves but any country which has supplied them, trained them, housed them or encouraged them.

There has been much speculation about the origin of the article in which the explosive was placed on the aircraft. I hope that the extensive, painstaking and detailed work on the wreckage, which is still being recovered, will eventually establish which consignment contained the bomb. It cannot help those seeking to discover the facts to speculate, and I am not prepared to do so. 697The fact that a bomb was on board an aircraft flying from Heathrow obviously raises questions about aviation security in this country. Security at our airports is acknowledged to be among the best in the world. Yet an aircraft with all its passengers and crew has been lost, and there have been grievous casualties on the ground. Immediate steps, in consultation with the Federal Aviation Authority and with the United States airlines, have been taken to increase security for those airlines' scheduled operations at Heathrow, Gatwick, Manchester and Prestwick.

Those measures were promulgated as soon as the accident investigator's announcement that the aircraft was destroyed by an explosive device was made on 28 December; the came into effect the next day. They require additional hold and cabin baggage checks, including checks of all baggage transferred from other aircraft, and more stringent requirements for protecting aircraft while they are on the ground. I am grateful for the co-operation we have had from the United States authorities and airlines and the airports.

[RB: In 1997 the AAIB’s Chief Inspector of Air Accidents, K P R Smart CBE, published an informative article on the Lockerbie investigation. It can be read here. The 1990 AAIB report into the destruction of Pan Am 103 can be read here.]

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