The Lockerbie Bomb

Lockerbie Bomb Incident – Scotland

The evening of Thursday 21st December 1988 saw a disaster on an almost unknown scale unfold above the skies of Scotland.

At 7.00pm residents of Lockerbie heard what sounded like a rumble of thunder in the night sky. This noise quickly increased. Onlookers nearby saw what they later described as looking like a fiery meteor streaking towards the ground.

At 19.03pm the first emergency call was made by radio from a police patrol in Lockerbie to Dumfries and Galloway Constabulary reporting an aircraft crash inn the town.

At 19.04 an emergency call from a member of the public was received by Dumfries and Galloway Fire Brigades control room. Who said that there had been a “huge boiler explosion” at West acres, in Lockerbie. Further calls from the police and other members of the public soon made it clear that it was an aircraft which had crashed. One calls was received from a fire brigade Assistant Divisional Officer who was nearby visiting relatives. He confirmed an aircraft had crashed, he then attended the incident.

The aircraft was a Pan Am Jumbo Jet, flight number 103. it had left London’s Heathrow airport, bound for New York’s JFK airport. A terrorist bomb had exploded on board causing the plane to begin a fall from it’s 31,000ft. cruising altitude. This fall would take around 2 minutes.

The first fire brigade appliances were mobile to the incident by 19.07pm and were booking in attendance within 3 minutes.

These first crews were met by the sight of multiple large and intense fires and a scene of utter destruction.

It was apparent that a major disaster had occurred. Once the ADO arrived at the incident he sent the message “make pumps 4” and also requested that ambulances be ordered.

He was relieved by a supervising officer within a few minutes.

This officer ordered “make pumps 10 and that the Major Incident Plan was put into place”. This involved despatching 10 pumping appliances from various brigades during the initial phase of the operation but following a further assessment of the area he revised the attendance and sent “make pumps 15”. This decision was made due to the number of fires and the large area they covered.

An informative message was now sent to control to make them aware of the seriousness of the incident. The message read “A large number of houses alight; water supply interrupted; surrounding area evacuated; incident control unit in attendance and set up at Sherwood Crescent; main fuselage has landed in the Rosebank area to which crews are being despatched”.

It soon became apparent that anyone on the aircraft had no chance of survival. Also very few persons on the ground in the area the fuselage came down would have survived.

Fire crews continued searching the area removing residents to safety, while others attempted to extinguish the fires and prevent them spreading.

The first ambulances on the scene started removing many of the injured townspeople to hospital within 30 minutes of the first call.

By 19.40pm the town hall had been opened to give shelter those who had been evacuated.

The divisional commander arrived at the incident at 20.08pm and ensured crews continued to prevent fires from spreading and to ensure all houses in the area were searched.

The Firemaster now arrived at the incident, and at 22.09 following a review of the situation and a discussion with the initial ADO (who had managed to view the catastrophic scene from a military helicopter that attended), he sent the message “make pumps 20” followed by an informative which read “a series of fires over area of Lockerbie town centre extending to 1 ½ miles by ½ mile wide; 40 mainly single story domestic properties completely destroyed or damaged to various degrees by fire and/or impact.

The main concentration of the fire in area southwest of Lockerbie in Sherwood Park and Crescent Extensive number of casualties and fires reported in area east of Lockerbie in Park Place and Rosebank Crescent. Fires and casualties being attended to by joint emergency services. Reports received at incident control unit of further fire and casualties at Tundergarth, four miles east of Lockerbie, appliances now in attendance. Water and electricity supplies have been interrupted in Lockerbie town centre. Water is being relayed over varying distances. Reinforcing appliances should report to the incident control unit situated adjacent to Lockerbie police station”.

The reports of fire and casualties at Tundergarth when investigated turned out to be the nose section of the Boing 747 Jumbo Jet embedded on an hillside outside the town. This is the image that people would always associate with Lockerbie.

It was soon obvious that none of the 243 passengers and 16 crew members on the aircraft would have survived this disaster. It was also found that 11 of Lockerbie’s townspeople had also died on the ground as parts of the plane landed on the town.

Bearing in mind the huge scale of this incident, the last of the major fires were extinguished by 02.22am the following morning. Only smaller fires now remained and firemen were now turning over the scene and damping down these smaller fires. At 03.36am appliances from neighbouring brigades along with their senior officers were released from the incident to return to their own areas.

09.00am the following morning would see an operational briefing at the police control room. One of the measures put into place was a movement restriction within the area. No persons would be allowed anywhere near the incident without written permission of the police.

The fire brigade “stop message” was sent at 14.12pm. The message read “Stop for major incident Lockerbie; all seats of fire now extinguished; crews will be deployed to any individual premises in the event of any re-ignition as a result of removal of debris and may further be deployed in damping down and turning over operations. It is anticipated that the brigade be stood down at 18.00 hours today and attendance be resumed at 08.00 hours tomorrow (23rd December 1988)

That afternoon pumps were reduced to 4 in number and 1 emergency tender remained at the scene.

From the 23rd December until the 30th December 2 pumps would remain at the incident. These crews would assist in the recovery of the bodies from the wreckage. This task also involved using a turntable ladder to inspect every rooftop in the area for human remains or aircraft wreckage.

This task was made extremely difficult as the debris was spread over approximately 845 square miles between Lockerbie and the North Sea. Miles of Scottish moors would need to be searched to find the remains of those people from the aircraft along with wreckage of the plane that would eventually lead to the cause of the crash.

Television crews from every corner of the globe attended Lockerbie and the surrounding area, they would be watching every move, and sending images of the professionalism of the rescue services to viewers throughout the world.

188 fire brigade personnel attended the incident.

A total of 20 fire brigade pumps attended Lockerbie, these were made up by

13 from Dumfries & Galloway, 4 from Cumbria, 2 from Lothian & Borders and 1 from Strathclyde. 1 turntable ladder, 2 incident control units, 2 emergency tenders and 1 Breathing Apparatus support unit.

3 other pumps brought in from military bases also attended with a RAF crash/rescue tender.

Local milk tenders were commandeered to assist in the relay of water due to the towns water main being fractured and put out of use, when one of the aircrafts engine fell to the ground.