What caused the crash ?
Investigations about the Pan Am 103-crash were conducted at an official
level by the Air
Accident Investigation Branch , AAIB, in UK and Scotland. Other
technical experts helped the AAIB. The conclusion was, that an intentional
explosive device was the cause of the crash. But other people have during
the years brought forward other theories for the crash.
This is a purely technical page, and shall not concern itself with any
criminal investigations. To read about the criminal investigation, go to
the criminal investigation page .
Overview and quick-menu - press to go to section:
and view the full and official AAIB-report of the crash
Personnell conducting the AAIB investigation
The investigation expenses of the AAIB exceeded 5 million British pounds
already in the first year!
M.M.Charles from the AAIBwas chief-of-staff in the AAIB investigation.
Take a look at a list of those activly involved in the investigation.
Thomas Thurman was the leading forensic expert, that analyzed the tiny
piece of timer circuit board, that was allegedly recovered from the wreckage
of Pan Am 103. He, together with forensic crash expert Korsgaard, could not determine, whether the device was triggered by a barometer or just a simple timer device. However he could trace the
scrap of the circuit board to a Swiss manufacturer, Meister et Bollier
of Zurich, known as the MEBO AG. Amazing - !
Alan Faraday, head of the Forensic Explosives Laboratory at the
Royal Armament Research and Development Establishment, proved specimens
from the wreckage to show evidence of two types of chemicals used to manufacture
Semtex, a plastic explosive. However, it was not proven, that these chemicals
actually came from the bomb. They could be traces of other cargo, since
the aircraft had been used for military transport before. In fact, the
traces of chemical ingrediens used in making semtex was so small an amount,
it could very likely been scraps from army uniforms or even traces from
medical chemicals such as heartpain-pills....
The black box
The black box, wich isn't black at all, but is bright orange,
contains the flight data recorder of every aircraft. It contains cockpit-instruments
measurings and readings, pilot's talking over the radio, steardesses announcing
to fasten seat-belts etc.
The black box of Pan Am 103 was found early on December the 22nd. It
landed close to the Lockerbie Tundergarth countryside at Banks Hill. Stuart
Dodd (14) took his dad's tractor together with his brother Robbie
Stuart (13) to search for debris on the fields, and they found the
box laying on Chris Grahams land, close to some woods.
The Data recorder was from 1972, but due to the technical lessons from
the crash of Pan Am 103, data flight recorders today are equipped with
new, seperate power links, in order to record also after the main
power has been ruptured due to crash in midflight.
View the recordings of
the Black Box for the crash of Pan Am 103
Investigators had their trouble with listening to the sounds of the
black box's voice recordings. Due to mechanical failure, the recorder didn't
vipe out the old sounds completely, before recording a new session. Investigators
had to filter those old noises and conversations away, before they could
listen to the session just before the power rupture.
A giant 3-D puzzle
How does one find out what really happened when a plane has crashed ? The
only way is to find all the pieces of the aircraft and put them together
again in order to see, first of all, how the aircraft disintegrated (broke
into pieces). It is just like a GIANT 3D-puzzle. After this, the technical
staff of investigators go through all the disintegrational points as to
find out why they broke apart. In the case of Pan Am 103 it was easy to
see, where the plane first disintegrated.....i.e. where the bomb went off.
The plane started disintegrating just at the "neck" between the cockpit
and the fuselage.
The forensic puzzle took place at a massive hangar at the British Ministry
of Defense depot in Longtown, near Carlisle in north England. There all
the remains recovered from the surroundings of Lockerbie were sorted out,
no matter how small the shrapnels might be. Sometimes big sacks of mud
and rubble were sifted through nets to find tiny pieces of airplane debris.
Those pieces came mostly from the famous crater at Sherwood Crescent, where
the fuel explosion dismantled everything into confetti.
The graveyard of PanAm 103
Many have emailed me and asked: "What has become of the plane today?" Well,
the wreckage of Lockerbie jet lies in Lincolnshire scrapyard in the UK
At the end of a Lincolnshire country lane marked "private", weeds coil
around 350 tonnes of white and blue metal strewn over a field which has
become the graveyard of PanAm Flight 103, bombed out of the sky over Lockerbie.
Moss covers the aircraft's cockpit, which is lying on its side among the
debris, propped against one of the Boeing 747's giant engines. Nearby is
part of a tail-fin. PanAm's livery is fading, but its blue globe logo remains
visible. Under Scottish law the breaker's yard owner is not allowed to
dispose of the wreckage until the case closes.
It was transported to the yard from an army base at Longtown near Carlisle
by a fleet of eight trucks in 1989. The destination was not publicised
to prevent sightseers gathering.Freight containers ring the field, which
is around 1,000 square feet. In some places the debris is piled 10 feet
high. Bushes and trees sprout between the pieces of silver grey aluminium
The cockpit's interior is said to be largely intact, with instrument
panels, dials and the pilot's joystick all in place. Rain and time have
discoloured the exterior. Also in the field is a helicopter which has broken
in half, as well as the fuselages of smaller aircraft.The breaker's yard
owner was at first paid by insurers, but since PanAm went bankrupt the
estimated £1,000 monthly bill has been paid by Dumfries and Galloway
What was the crash like when it happened:
The technical investigators found out, that the blast, which brought down
Pan Am 103 wasn't a very big one. The plane wasn't blown to pieces by the
bomb.....it was the mach stem waves that ruptured the plane into pieces
together with the gravitational and aerodynamical forces in flight. What
are mach stem waves ? Read what the technical crew thinks might have happened
with Pan Am 103 in its last seconds before impact:
Mach stem waves: the ultimate plane shredder
Mach stem waves: a technical explenation
Finding the bomb
planes just don't crash like that without a cause. Radar readings, analysis
of the cockpit-voice recorder all indicated the crash to be due to a sudden
power break or rupture. Analysis of wheather and winds as well as fracture
trail, indicated that Pan Am 103 must have broken up/disintegrated already
in descent in midair.That doesn't nescessarily mean the plane has been
blown up. Aircrafts can disintegrate if they descent violently because
of other reasons, too.
However, the investigation team concluded in their report, that the
crash of Pan Am 103 was triggered by a socalled IED (intentional explosive
device), in plain english: a bomb. Or at least, this is what they
assume was the most plausible explenation. It is not 100 % the truth...but
it is the explenation, that comes closest to the truth. Let's take a look
at the indication for the crash to have been triggered by an IED/bomb:
The CVR (cockpit voice recorder) recorded a loud sound just miliseconds
before power rupture. It could be the sound of a bomb. But it could also
be the sound of the aircraft disintegrating. No final conclusion was made
as to the origin of this sound, only technical correct speculations.
If a bomb started the disintegration, the wreckage of this direct impact
would be first on the ground, at the beginning of the wreckage trail. The
lower, forward cargo deck was indeed one of the pieces lying at the beginning
of the wreckage trail.
Engine no. 2 shows heavy damage due to powerful airflow disturbance as
well as intake of foreign objects, among them a cable similar to the closure
curtain of a cargo container. This means engine no.2 had been hit by some
sort of strong blast as it still was working. In fact, later they found
out engine no.2 actually "ate" about 8 passengers, including seat and seatbelts!
Burned marks on a luggage container, and the one next to it shows a blast
An electronic timing device allegedly found inside piece of suitcase from
the blasted luggage container.The device doesn't nescessarily have to be
a timer for a bomb - but that is what FBI assumes.
There was no indications of prior technical problems with the aircraft.
Neither to be found in the aircraft repair-reports, flightrecorders, crew
conversation or other proofs of flight history. At least, that's what Boing
assume the IED was found in a brown Samsonite luggage, inside a Toshiba
Cassete Recorder, a socalled Ghettoblaster, probably packed with 10 to
14 ounzes of semtex. However there was no direct indications of semtex,
wich is a plastic explosive. Two traces of socalled ingrediens of semtex
where found in cargo area (RDX and PETN), but this does not automatically
proove them to be fragments from semtex.
Traces of RDX and PETN can be found in many other chemical substances,
too. And even just a soldier having used explosives, brushing dust from
his clothes could be the explenation for the finding of RDX and PETN. After
all, PA 103 had been used recently by military forces as part of agreement
between commercial airliners and the US government.
So there is in fact no legal proof of explosive devices aboard!
Any traces of explosive material are not nescessarily proven to be related
to a bomb blowing up Pan Am 103....but it is a high possibility they actually
are. The "bomb" is nevertheless a very plausible explenation of crash cause.
More and more planes seems to become victims of explosive devices.
It is the nightmare of any airline-carrier, because a bomb strikes from
nowhere out of the blue. You cannot predict air-crashes due to intentional
bombs. But maybe you can predict the bomb, when it is brought aboard. Most
bombs are hidden inside the luggage on board. Read about a research project
which found out some interesting technical facts of such problems....
experimenting bombs inside airplane luggage containers
In a court of law, the traces of semtex wouldn't stand the evidence.
Other theories of damage
Beeing an American plane, carrying CIA personell among others, a bomb can
be no big surprise. But it doesn't have to be a bomb. Other weird things
can make an aircraft disintegrate and crash as well. Seagulls sucked into
the engines. Meteorites hitting the aircraft. Oops!-missiles or deliberate
missiles. UFO's trying to abduct the plane. Metal fatigue. Bad weather.
Bad luck. Most of the mentioned incidents are very unlikely to be
the cause of the crash of Pan Am 103. But some theories other than a bomb
are within reason.
expert John Barry Smith put forward another theory about the crash.
It is his opinion, that the crash was triggered by a defect cargo door.
He claims, that other Boeing 747-aircrafts have had similar problems, and
even thinks that other crashes involving 747-aircrafts can be connected
to this cargo door problem. Some air accidents are factually caused by
week cargodoors. In his opinion, the crash of Pan Am 103 was not a criminal
act, but inevitable sooner or later.
Discussions of technical causes for the crash:
bomb or no bomb ?
Some technical wizards have other explenations. In connection with the
crash in Lockerbie, several people noticed intense magnetic disturbances
in their TV-sets or radio's. Could electromagnetic disrupture have something
to do with the crash ?
Lockerbie crash caused from Alaska ???
(Probably not....but read it anyway!)
Much crap has been written during the investigation....but seldom has
truth been so far away as in this article from 1996:
Two bombs aboard Pan Am 103 ?
Pan Am 103 was not the only plane crashing due to evil intention of
Other crashes of airplanes caused by terrorist
activities and tried covered up
Bombs - if it indeed was a bomb that brought down Pan Am 103 - don't
come out into the open from the unknown.
Why was the bomb aboard ? And who put it there ?
Let's take a look at the criminal investigation of Pan Am 103...