Wednesday, 4 May 2016

“It just looked like everything was burning”

[What follows is excerpted from Safia Aoude’s coverage of Day 2 of the Lockerbie trial (4 May 2000) on The Pan Am 103 Crash Website:]

Graphic accounts of the carnage inflicted when a terrorist bomb ripped apart a jumbo jet and sent it plunging into a Scottish town dominated the second day of the Lockerbie trial on Thursday. relatives of the victims attending the trial held hands as witnesses recounted the grisly scene of flaming houses and screaming. Defense lawyers did not question the five eye-witnesses who testified on the second morning of the trial to a grim court. (...)

Witnesses to the Lockerbie bombing have relived the horror of the night Pan Am flight 103 was blown up.  They described how they fled for their lives as flames and debris fell over the tiny Scottish town and of the stricken plane falling from the sky in a burning arc towards the ground.

Social worker Jasmine Bell, 53, relived how she had evaded flames and burning objects as she arrived in the Scottish town to deliver Christmas food parcels. She told the specially convened court at Camp Zeist in the Netherlands how she called at her brother's home in Sherwood Park - close to Sherwood Crescent where the Lockerbie residents lost their lives. She looked up into the sky as her brother yelled: "It's a plane, get down."

Mrs Bell, from Dumfries, told the court: "I looked up and saw what I imagined was a small plane just going over my head. I ducked down and covered my head.

"There was fire all around me, there were burning objects and the fire was falling down from the sky and as it landed on the ground I was stepping backwards to avoid the fire and I stepped back and back until my back was against the wall of the house and I couldn't go any further." Then her brother, who had entered his home through the garage, pulled her into the house, Mrs Bell said.

"Everything was burning, the driveway, the lawn, the hedges, the rooftops, it just looked like everything was burning." (...)

Kevin Anderson, 35, a plasterer from Tundergarth, three miles from Lockerbie, saw the cockpit of the plane, one of the few recognisable sections to fall to earth. He said: "It was like an atomic bomb that you see on the telly. It was up in the air and then came down."  Then, he said, debris began falling and the cockpit landed in the field, about 100 yards away from him.  "I fetched the wife and we went up to look. I couldn't believe what I was seeing.

"There were bodies lying around the cockpit. I went to get my father-in-law from his house about 100 yards up the road. We went over to the cockpit to see if anyone was alive. I had a torch. We looked inside the cockpit. I could see the pilot." (...)

The most senior police officer in Lockerbie on the night of the Pan Am 103 disaster has said he fears the town may never get back to normal.  Retired superintendent Geoffrey Carpenter was giving evidence after the recess. He was among the first officers to reach the scene and became a key figure in organising the rescue services and coping with the aftermath of the disaster. Mr Carpenter told the trial he hoped the case would mark the last chapter in the tragedy.

Mr Carpenter, who retired seven years ago and still lives in Lockerbie, was asked by prosecuting counsel Colin Boyd QC whether the community would ever get over what happened. He said: "It's difficult to say. It affects people in different ways. You get people who don't want to know, and people who want to talk about it.  "It's unfortunate that you've got this court sitting now which brings it all home.

"I would like to think that, at the end of this, we get back to normality, if we ever do.   "It is something we have to live with for the rest of our lives."

Mr Carpenter praised the way in which the people of Lockerbie reacted to the disaster. He told the court: "They baked, made food for search teams and many volunteered help in the enquiry centre. They did a tremendous job." (...)

Also among the spectators today was New York lawyer James Kreindler, who is preparing a civil suit against Libya on behalf of 105 victims' families. "We probably have 90 percent of the evidence we need," he told The Associated Press, though said he lacked testimony that the bomb was planted at the behest of the government. Kreindler said: "There is evidence we need to show that Libya was responsible for the bombing and that evidence has been kept confidential until it is brought forward in the criminal trial.

“Whether the two men are criminally convicted is not essential for us. We do not need criminal convictions to move forward against the Libyans.”

Suspect Fhimah's cousin Ali Fhimah said to the press today: “We met him yesterday and his spirits are very high and he is confident he (will be proved) innocent.”  The Saudi-owned daily Asharq al-Awsat also quoted al-Megrahi's brother, Mohammad, as saying: “He is in high spirits.”

"This is the first time I've seen my dad in the courtroom.  I feel sad but hopeful he will prove his innocence," Megrahi's  daughter Ghada Megrahi told reporters at the court. Wearing a kerchief on her head in keeping with Muslim tradition, she said, “It hurts, but I know my father is innocent,” before a burly Libyan man, who would not identify himself, shepherded them away.

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