FALL, NOT BOMB, MAY HAVE
KILLED LOCKERBIE VICTIMS
Published on Sunday, October 7, 1990
© 1990 The Arizona Republic
The pilot and at least 147 other victims of the Lockerbie disaster may have survived the bomb blast that ripped the plane apart at 31,000 feet and died when they hit the ground, a forensic pathologist says.
''And, there's a good possibility they were conscious,'' said Dr. William G. Eckert, director of the Milton Helpern International Center of Forensic Sciences at Wichita State University. Eckert has performed thousands of autopsies and consulted on hundreds of cases involving medical-legal issues.
Pan Am Flight 103 was ripped apart by a bomb Dec. 21, 1988, over southern Scotland. Whether any of the 259 victims survived the blast may be a crucial point in lawsuits seeking payment for the victims' pain and suffering.
Eckert said the 148 Lockerbie victims who landed on or near Tundergoth Hill - one of five main areas where bodies and debris fell - might have lost consciousness because of lack of oxygen when the Boeing 747 exploded but would have revived at about 15,000 to 10,000 feet.
He said the victims would have been aware of what was happening for the final third of their 36-second fall.
Eckert said testimony Thursday at a public inquiry in Dumfries, Scotland, supported his opinions. A rescuer said she found a young woman who had a weak but regular pulse shortly after the bodies rained from the sky.
In a memo to Scottish police investigator John Orr, Eckert said several of the passengers apparently had prepared for their deaths. Some clutched crosses or crucifixes, and one woman held her baby tight.
A woman aboard a Yugoslav airliner that collided with a British jetliner in 1976 survived a 38,000-foot fall, Eckert said.
German pilots during World War II who crashed and died at the controls of their planes suffered injuries similar to those inflicted on the Pan Am flight's pilot, he said.
''There was a mark on the thumb of the right hand of the pilot that suggests the pilot was holding the yoke of the plane on impact and was alive and holding on for dear life,'' Eckert said.
Eckert's comments came in a Friday interview, in the memo he wrote to Orr and in an article he wrote for the American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology, the professional journal of the National Association of Medical Examiners. The report was published in the quarterly's fall issue.
Eckert toured the crash site and investigation centers about five months after the crash. He wrote the confidential memo to Orr shortly after the visit and gave a copy Friday to The Associated Press.