The Crash ... a plane hits the road ... literally !!!

On the eve of 21.12.1988 an American civil aircraft Boeing 747-121 was on its way from Frankfurt via London towards New York at flight level 310 (31000 feet), when it suddenly and violently blew up into several fragments. The plane, or rather pieces of it, were scattered on the ground around the Scottish city of Lockerbie, Scotland, one large part of the plane crashed directly onto residental buildings in the city. The exact time of the crash was 21 December 1988 at 19:02:50 hrs. We know this due to technical investigations of the socalled black box, the flight voice recorder, radar timings and seismic readings. The accident was notified to the British AAIB at 19.40 hours same day. 
The wreckage was still smoking when cameramen arrived on the crash-scene:
Watch the first pictures of the crash from the archives of CNN

The last readings

Pan Am 103 took of from London Heathrow Airport at 18.25 hrs. As it was approaching the Burnham VOR it took up a radar heading of 350 degrees and flew below the Bovingdon holding point at 600 feet. It was then cleared to climb initially to flight level FL 120 and subsequently to FL 310. The aircraft levelled off at FL 310 nort west of Pole Hill VOR at 18.56 hrs. Approximately 7 minutes later, Shanwick Oceanic Control transmitted the aircraft's oceanic clearance but this transmission was not acknowledged from the aircraft. The secondary radar return from flight PA 103 disappeared from the radar screen during the transmission.
  • Take a look at the last radar return


    Impact information

    The impact of the crashing plane was so strong, that the British Geological Survey in its stations in the south of Scotland recorded a seismic event measuring 1.6 on the Richter scale.

    A complete wing primary structure, incorporating the centre section of PA 103, impacted on the southern edge of Lockerbie. Most of the airplane, including the engines, also hit town. Large portions of the airplane fell in the countryside to the east of the town, and some other wreckage was found further east over a distance of 130 kilometres.

    The part that hit Lockerbie created a crater with a volume aprx. 560 kubicmeters, about 47 meters (155 feet) broad and 196 feet long. The weight of material displaced by the wing structure was estimated to be well in excess of 1500 tonnes. Worst hit was the Lockerbie Sherwood Crescent Site, the crash starting fire to the surrounding buildings. 21 residential buildings became demolished as a result of the crash.

    The crash cause

    The report from the AAIB (Air Accident Investigation Branch) concluded the cause of the crash to be an intentional explosive device on the aircraft, placed in the cargo container in the right forward section of the aircraft. Other theories of the crash have been put forward. But how do we tell what actually happened ? Let's take a look at the technical investigation of the crash.