Lockerbie - 25 years on

IT was, in the words of the Evening Times' chief reporter at the time, like a scene from the war-time Blitz.

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  • How we reported the Lockerbie disaster
    How we reported the Lockerbie disaster
  • How we reported the Lockerbie disaster

Remnants of the devastated Pan Am Boeing were scattered over a huge area.

There was rubble everywhere. Shattered windows, houses with their roofs blown off, cars smashed to pieces. In the worst-hit streets, entire houses had been reduced to a shell.

The streets were littered with debris from the Clipper Maid of the Seas: pieces of ­engines and fuselage, broken seats and head-rests, torn seat-belts.

"The scenes in Lockerbie last night," wrote Barbara ­McMahon, "were so horrific they almost defied description. Broken bodies of ­passengers were strewn everywhere."

Blue flashing lights from dozens of emergency vehicles cast an eerie light over the area. RAF helicopters flew overhead.

The town hall, more ­accustomed to school plays and the festive panto, had now become a makeshift ­mortuary. A sad procession of stretchers brought in body ­after body.

Shops opened their doors to supply tea and coffee to rescuers.

That Wednesday evening in Lockerbie had been like ­everywhere else.

The townspeople had settled down to a quiet night - wrapping Christmas ­presents, watching TV, taking the dog out for a walk.

Just after 7pm, all of that changed when Pan Am flight 103 exploded.

The emergency crews that rushed to the small town were greeted with scenes of unimaginable devastation.

In newspaper offices across the country, journalists and editors, unable to believe the enormity of what had just happened, were preparing to deal with the biggest story of their lives.

In an instant the planned front pages of the following day's papers were wiped out.

Work began on putting ­together new versions, with words and photographs from this small Dumfriesshire town.

Radio and TV newsrooms, too, scrambled to report on the story.

Barbara's detailed report the following morning was just part of this paper's ­extensive coverage.

"SABOTAGE" read the headline on the front page, above a report that an Islamic group had claimed responsibility for the outrage.

The day after that - Friday, December 23 - our front-page story, headlined "STREET OF SORROW", focused on ­Sherwood Crescent, which bore the brunt of the impact of the jet crash.

Barbara, still in ­Lockerbie, also spoke to townspeople who had ­somehow survived the disaster.

Ruth Jamieson, 34, was one of them.

Debris and fire had rained down on the garage where she had been working.

"I don't know why I am still here," she said, the emotion plainly evident in her voice. She told how she had just returned to her cash desk when she heard a noise like thunder, followed by a blinding flash.

"Suddenly there was burning everywhere, there were bits of fire coming down from the ceiling.

"I screamed and took to my heels and ran into the office."

She tried to ring 999 but found the phone lines had come down.

Running outside, she saw that the diesel pump had caught fire. A pile of ­disused tyres at the side of the forecourt was also ablaze. Her main thought was to contact the fire ­brigade ­before the petrol tanks, which contained thousands of gallons of fuel, went up too.

She ran outside and saw people emerging from their homes, in a daze. There were bodies lying in the darkness.

"I should have been dead," she said. "It hasn't hit me yet, really.

"I can't ­believe what had happened."

Ruth's husband John had sprinted from the family home when he heard the "thunder and lighting" of the plane coming down.

He ran in the direction of the garage - and saw his wife standing in the smoking ruins of the forecourt.

"It was," he said, "like a scene out of hell."

Barbara wrote: "The main fuselage had clipped the garage as it went down and buried itself in a giant crater, destroying houses directly behind the garage.

"By an amazing chance, the diesel pump caught fire but didn't reach the petrol tanks buried underground."

Lockerbie happened just a few months after 167 ­people had lost their lives in the Piper Alpha North Sea disaster.

It had been a terrible year in so many ways.

Ruth said: "We will be praying for all the poor ­people who died this ­Christmas ... Why did this have to happen so near to Christmas?"

That prayer, and that question, were repeated by millions of people, all over the world.

n TOMORROW: We talk to people who found themselves caught up in the ­Lockerbie tragedy.

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