Pan Am Flight 103/Fatal Accident Inquiry

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Event.png Pan Am Flight 103/Fatal Accident Inquiry Rdf-icon.png
Easterbrook Hall.jpg
Lockerbie Fatal Accident Inquiry held at Easterbrook Hall, Dumfries
Date 1990 - 1991
Location Dumfries,  Scotland
Type inquiry
Description The only public hearing in Scotland of the facts about the Lockerbie bombing.

Background

The Air Accidents Investigation Branch submitted a detailed 54-page report on the accident to Cecil Parkinson, Secretary of State for Transport, on 6 August 1990.[1] Informed by the AAIB report, John Mowat QC, Sheriff Principal of South Strathclyde, Dumfries and Galloway, conducted a Fatal Accident Inquiry (FAI) into the Lockerbie disaster at Easterbrook Hall, Crichton Royal Hospital, Dumfries from 1 October 1990 to 13 February 1991.

Baggage handling

Cross-examining Pan Am baggage handlers during the FAI, Lockerbie relative Marina de Larracoechea asked Amarjit Singh Sidhu, 41, if he knew of at least three security breaches at Heathrow staged after the disaster, and that journalists had created fake identity cards to enter the forbidden area. But Sheriff Principal John Mowat, the presiding judge, overruled the question, saying: "I'm not concerned with Heathrow after the disaster and what precautions were taken there. My concern is with what led up to the disaster."

She wanted to establish whether Pan Am employees would have recognised an intruder:

"I don't know how they could control it if anyone was really set on a bomb attempt ... they would get through quite easily, I believe, because of lack of control."

She asked Sidhu if he recognised new workers by their badges or their uniform. The Pan Am employee said this was a task mainly for security officers, but all employees had been briefed to check on anybody they did not recognise.

Sidhu said loaders on duty for Flight 103 would have known if a stranger or an imposter had been part of the group that loaded container 4041, which contained the suitcase in which had been hidden the radio bomb that killed all 259 occupants and 11 residents of the Scottish town of Lockerbie.

He and two other handlers said they had seen no irregularities or any strangers during the unloading of cargo from a connecting Frankfurt flight. Terence Crabtree, 42, said container 4041 had about six or seven suitcases from different airlines. He said when it was full, he locked it and drove it to the awaiting Boeing 747.[2]

Cabin crew complement

Questioned by Marina de Larracoechea, Pan Am's director of flight services at Heathrow, Michael Sullivan, revealed to the FAI that the normal cabin crew for a Boeing 747 was 13. But because of the passenger load on Flight 103, the correct number should have been 12. Asked why there had been 13 he replied:

"I cannot definitely say the reason. When we looked at the list afterwards we found there was a 13th. The only persons who would have known (the reason for the extra member) were the crew", Sullivan said.

Asked if he was saying an extra flight person "could just walk in", he answered:

"It is the responsibility of the purser, who has the crew list, to advise us of any crew difference."

Larracoechea then asked him if it was possible that an extra person could appear at the airport and after an exchange of words, without anyone else knowing, join the flight crew:

"It should not happen but it appears to have happened in this case. I didn't know who to talk to. The only person who would have known would have been the purser who wrote the 13th name on the assignment sheet which the 13th person had signed", Sullivan said.

Asked by reporters after the hearing if he could name the 13th cabin crew member, Sullivan said: "I am not going to talk about that."

"I think I know who it was but I am not certain. I do not want to give any name at this stage", Larracoechea said.

The FAI, which had run for 10 weeks and heard a total of 46 days evidence from about 150 witnesses by 7 December 1990, was due to resume on 22 January 1991. The estimated cost of staging it is three million pounds, or about $5.8 million.[3]

Findings

In his FAI report, Sheriff Principal Mowat determined:

(1) That 16 named crew members died from multiple injuries at about 1905 hours on Wednesday 21 December 1988 at or near Lockerbie, Dumfriesshire in the course of their employment with Pan American World Airways as members of the flight crew of Pan American World Airways Flight 103 on Boeing 747-121 Registration N739PA en route from London Heathrow Airport to John F Kennedy Airport, New York.
(2) That 243 named passengers, including Bernt Wilmar Carlsson (born on 21 November 1938 and residing at Apartment 30, 207 West 106th Street, New York, New York 10025, USA), who were passengers on said aircraft, died from multiple injuries at about 1905 hours on Wednesday 21 December 1988 at or near Lockerbie, Dumfriesshire.
(3) That 11 named Lockerbie residents all died from multiple injuries and/or severe burning at about 1905 hours on Wednesday 21 December 1988 at Sherwood Crescent, Lockerbie, Dumfriesshire.
(4) That the cause of all the said deaths was the detonation of an improvised explosive device located in luggage container AVE 4041 situated on the left side of the forward hold of said aircraft Registration N739PA. The detonation caused the nose and flight deck of the aircraft to become detached and the rest of the aircraft to descend out of control and to break up, eventually crashing into the ground at or near Lockerbie. The wing and centre fuselage section crashed in the Sherwood Crescent area of the town and caused the deaths referred to in Finding (3) hereof. The deaths referred to in Findings (1) and (2) hereof resulted from injuries sustained either as a direct result of the explosion and the disintegration of the aircraft or from impact with the ground.
(5) That the said device consisted of Semtex-type plastic explosive concealed in a Toshiba radio-cassette player contained in a Samsonite suitcase which was one of the pieces of baggage placed in the said luggage container by employees of Pan American World Airways at Heathrow Airport, London. The contents of said container consisted of six or seven pieces of baggage collected from the interline shed and about thirty five pieces of baggage which had been unloaded from Pan American flight 103A from Frankfurt to Heathrow and were labelled as destined for airports in the United States, including JFK Airport New York and Detroit. The bags from the interline shed had been checked in by passengers booked on flights into Heathrow on airlines other than Pan American World Airways to connect with Pan American Flight 103 to New York.
(6) That the primary cause of the said deaths was a criminal act of murder.
(7) That the aircraft involved arrived at Heathrow at about 1210 hours on 21 December 1988 from San Francisco and was under constant guard until it left Heathrow as Flight 103 that evening. The aircraft was fully airworthy when it took off from Heathrow at 1825 hours.
(8) That the bags transferred from Pan American Flight 103A were taken directly from that aircraft in the said baggage container to Pan American Flight 103. They were not counted or weighed so as to check that they corresponded to the baggage checked in at Frankfurt by passengers proceeding to New York or reconciled in any other way with such passengers. They were not x-rayed at Heathrow.
(9) That the suitcase containing the said explosive device was among the said pieces of baggage transferred from Pan American Flight 103A and was unaccompanied both on the flight from Frankfurt to Heathrow and on the flight from Heathrow.
(10) That the said suitcase probably arrived at Frankfurt on a flight or an airline other than Pan American and so was interlined to Pan American there. It was loaded on to and allowed to fly on Flight 103A without being identified as an unaccompanied bag.
(11) That bags interlined to Pan American at Heathrow were subjected to x-ray screening but there was no reconciliation procedure there to ensure that interline passengers and their baggage travelled on the same aircraft. The same procedure probably applied at Frankfurt.
(12) That Khaled Nazir Jaafar originated as a passenger at Frankfurt. He checked in two bags, neither of which was the suitcase containing the device and neither of which contained any traces of illegal drugs. There was nothing to connect him with the said suitcase containing the device.
(13) That in 1988 it was accepted
(a) that there was a danger of an explosive device being concealed in a piece of baggage and loaded on to an aircraft;
(b) that such a piece of baggage was likely to be unaccompanied; and,
(c) that such a bag was likely to be introduced by being interlined at a particular airport from another airline and that the person introducing it would not check in as a passenger at that airport.
(14) That positive passenger/baggage reconciliation was recognised as an important element in any system designed to prevent the carriage of an unaccompanied bag on an aircraft.
(15) That the limitations of x-ray screening as a means of detecting plastic explosives contained in electronic equipment were generally recognised as at December 1988.
(16) That in all the circumstances the procedure of transferring baggage from Flight 103A to Flight 103 without any security check involved a substantial risk that an unaccompanied bag containing an explosive device would be so transferred.
(17) That it would have been a reasonable precaution to have instituted or reverted to a positive passenger/baggage reconciliation procedure in relation to interline baggage at Frankfurt designed to detect the presence of any unaccompanied bag. Such a precaution might have avoided the deaths.
(18) That in the absence of such a procedure at Frankfurt, it would have been a reasonable precaution to have instituted a positive passenger/baggage reconciliation procedure in relation to bags transferred from Flight 103A to Flight 103, either by counting the bags so transferred or by a physical match. Such a precaution might have prevented the deaths.
(19) That reliance on x-ray screening alone in relation to interline baggage at Heathrow and Frankfurt was a defect in a system of working which contributed to the deaths.
(20) That the Department of Transport’s direction (Production 71) and the Circulars (Productions 21/1 and 64), as interpreted by the Department, afforded insufficient protection against the possibility that an undetected unaccompanied bag would be transferred from Flight 103A to Flight 103.[4]

Problems

Lockerbie campaigners Barry Walker and Morag Kerr take issue with John Mowat's finding number (5) - that the bomb suitcase had arrived from Frankfurt on the feeder flight Pan Am 103A - to be incorrect:

Detective Chief Superintendent John Orr’s supposition that the two bags seen by baggage handler David Bedford were "Interline" bags, the forensic tests that purported to eliminate these bags and the speculation that these bags had been re-arranged were all essentially irrelevant. Indeed the attempt to identify the origin of the primary suitcase from identifying the bags around it was deeply flawed as it assumed the primary suitcase was introduced into the system at the same point.
There was only one way to properly identify and eliminate the brown/maroon Samsonite seen by Bedford and that was to recover it, examine its contents and link it to a particular passenger. If DCS John Orr believed the Samsonite seen by Bedford was an Interline bag then it should have been recovered and linked to a specific Interline passenger.
The logic is irrefutable. If the Samsonite suitcase seen in container AVE4041 was not otherwise recovered then it must have been the primary suitcase. As it was seen long before the arrival of flight PA103A then the official scenario (on which Megrahi was convicted) must be untrue.[5]

Summary

Kenneth Roy wrote in 2014: "There has been one, only one, public hearing in Scotland of the facts about Lockerbie. This was the Fatal Accident Inquiry heard by Sheriff Principal John Mowat in 1990, two years after the disaster.[6] The choice of location seems, in retrospect, grimly appropriate: the recreation hall of a psychiatric hospital, converted into a courtroom with seating for 400. When I turned up one morning and reported to the media centre, I found it deserted. There were dozens of desks and cubicles for the international press, but only a handful of them had ever been occupied and there was no need to connect the telephones... It is instructive to look back at that under-reported inquiry from the distance of almost quarter of a century – if only for proof that the truth about Lockerbie will probably never be known."[7]



References