Feature 16/12/1998

Old Wounds Reopen on Lockerbie's Anniversary


               LOCKERBIE, Scotland Dec 18 (Reuters) - Ella Ramsden was left with nothing
               but her dog when Pan Am flight 103 obliterated her house and left 60 corpses
               strewn across her back garden.

               Father Pat Keegans was an alcoholic contemplating suicide when he came to the
               small Scottish town of Lockerbie. Comforting the bereaved after Britain's
               biggest mass murder proved to be his redemption.

               "For me, it was only losing a house. For so many others, it was a loss beyond
               imagination," said Ramsden as the 10th anniversary neared of the Pan Am crash
               that killed 259 airline passengers and 11 people on the ground.

               Now the neighbour who pulled Ramsden from the wreckage of her house has
               just been killed. A gas explosion ripped his house apart. Cruel memories
               returned to a street that saw so much devastation.

               Keegans confessed: "I was suicidal at that point in my life and recognised I
               would be better off dead." Instead, he became a lifeline to the grieving and put
               his own life back in order.

               Amid all the unimaginable horrors of that wintry night in 1988, tales of heroism
               abounded after the plane disintegrated in a bomb explosion and plunged six
               miles to earth.

               Today, the quiet little Scottish town where bodies rained down from the skies
               offers a comforting embrace to grieving relatives-- but it would like to get on
               with the future.

               The media are back in town for the December 21 anniversary. The press office
               is up and running in the town hall but weary townsfolk long-- through no lack of
               respect to the dead-- for the news spotlight to shine elsewhere again.

               "I think it reopens old wounds. We have got the whole media circus back which
               is a pain," said Gideon Pringle who helped look after Lockerbie's children the
               year Christmas was cancelled.

               "There is a feeling of leave us alone," confessed local government official Donald
               Bogie who had to set up the mortuary in the town hall and then rapidly had to
               open a second and a third in the local ice rink and a disused factory.

               The youngest victim was just two months old; the oldest 82. Seventeen bodies
               were never found-- they had simply vaporised.


               How did rescue workers cope with the Apocalyptic scenes that greeted them in
               a quiet backwater suddenly transformed into a war zone?

               "It was deep breath and continue," said Bogie whose links with the relatives are
               now so close. His daughter won a scholarship to Syracuse University which lost
               35 students in the explosion.

               Interviewing those who lived through that night and rushed to help can be an
               unnerving experience. They almost go on automatic pilot, recounting for the
               100th time horrors that seem to have happened only yesterday.

               Retired inspector George Stobbs, who at the time was running the smallest
               police force in Britain, said: "It was like being in a film scene, like those 3-D
               images coming towards you.

               "I worked for 62 hours and basically you are a zombie at the end of it. I took
               just two spoonfuls of my Christmas lunch and then fell asleep."

               Stobbs, sipping tea in his farmhouse outside Lockerbie, said he would never
               forget the sight of a wrought-iron gate melting in the heat from the giant fireball
               created by the fuselage and wings crashing onto Lockerbie.

               "The heat was so intense, it was actually melting," he said.

               To some, the giant fireball into the sky looked like the mushroom cloud of a
               nuclear bomb. The impact was so great it registered 1.6 on the Richter scale.

               But Stobbs feels that the town is now coming back to normal after a decade of
               pain. Christmas tree lights are twinkling again, decorations are up in the shops,
               it's karaoke night in the Crown Hotel on Fridays.

               "After the physical scars were removed and the memorials erected, the people
               began to settle down and be a community again," he said of the tight-knit little
               town of 3,500.

               BONDS OF FRIENDSHIP

               Bonds of friendship have been forged between the people of Lockerbie and
               grieving relatives from the United States still trying to grapple with the enormity
               of the tragedy.

               A farmer and his wife planted a fir tree to mark the place where they found
               passenger Fred Ciulla. To his daughter, Michelle, it is an emotional focus point
               when she flies over to visit the spot that is sacred to her.

               She said of the people of Lockerbie: "They never stopped taking care of the
               relatives. They never stopped taking care of each other.

               "What is so incredible is that there isn't one person in Lockerbie who thinks they
               did anything special," she said.

               Dog handler Bill Parr will never forget the look of sheer terror on the faces of
               two teenage girls he found still strapped into their seats. They had their fingers
               crossed as they clutched each other in death.

               For those rescuers who had such a gruesome task to perform, spectres chased
               them night after night.

               "I had the bodies talking to me in nightmares," confessed Parr who scoured the
               hills with his highly trained border collies Shep and Donna to find all the
               scattered human remains.

               For the American relatives of the victims, the grieving never ends.

               Victoria Cummock embraced her children as they laid roses on the tombstone of
               her husband at Tundergarth graveyard near the spot where he plummeted to his

               "John could not have picked a better place to die," she said, looking out over the
               windswept hills where grazing cows have replaced twisted metal and broken

               She offered the perfect epitaph to the townspeople who spent a whole year
               washing, cleaning and ironing all the victims' clothes: "If it hadn't been for the
               people of Lockerbie, this tragedy would have been unbearable for me."