Memories of Lockerbie

Twenty five years ago this weekend Pan Am flight 103 was blown out of the sky over Lockerbie.

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  • Our memories of Lockerbie disaster, by those who were there
    Our memories of Lockerbie disaster, by those who were there
  • Our memories of Lockerbie disaster, by those who were there
  • Our memories of Lockerbie disaster, by those who were there
  • Our memories of Lockerbie disaster, by those who were there

All 259 passengers and crew were killed along with 11 other people as the plane fell around the town.

This week the Evening Times looks back at the tragedy through a series of articles.

Jasmine Bell, Kevin Anderson and Agnes McLean were all caught up in the awful drama on December 21, 1988.

Here, they - and retired firefighter Tom McAdam - share some of their memories with Russell Leadbetter.

Jasmine Bell, now 67, was a social work assistant in Annan.

"It was busy at work and there were food parcels and toys to deliver to needy families. That night I had a number to deliver to families in and around Lockerbie.

"I had to go into Sherwood Park to turn the car and as I was passing my brother Ving's house I saw him outside polishing his hearse for a funeral the next day.

"As we chatted we heard a loud noise. Ving said it must be thunder. It was getting louder and louder, and just as I was saying it was strange thunder, Ving shouted: 'Get down - it's a plane.' I looked up and saw this huge thing flying over my head so low I ducked.

"Almost immediately it seemed as if it was raining fire. I saw Ving diving over the car into the garage but I couldn't get there as there was stuff falling and landing on the ground around me.

"I kept moving back and back to avoid being hit then my back was against the wall and I really thought my last moment had come. But I saw my family, and a calmness came over me - it was a weird experience.

"In the next few seconds I felt someone grabbing the back of my coat and hauling me into the house. Ving had gone into the house through the garage and opened the back door to find me against it.

"We clung together and suddenly everything went quiet. We looked out the front door. Everything was on fire - rooftops, hedges, the ground. Most of the neighbours were elderly folk and Ving said we needed to get them out of the houses to safety.

"Running down the driveway was like jumping over campfires. As I got to the gate a local doctor was passing in his car and asked, 'Any idea what size of plane it was?' I didn't know, but thought at least somebody else was thinking it's a plane.

"The emergency services arrived and Ving got his wife, me and my son and another family with young children together.

"We made it to my home on the other side of town. It was then we realised it was a jumbo jet that had exploded."

Plasterer Kevin Anderson, now 49, was living in Tundergarth, three miles from Lockerbie. "I was in the ­garage, changing the oil in my wife's car. It was a dark night, dry but windy.

"I was walking ­towards a bench under a window that looks on to Lockerbie when I heard a big explosion.

"It was like an atomic bomb going off, like you see on television. I thought something had blown up in Lockerbie - petrol pumps or something like that.

"I went outside a couple of minutes ­afterwards. I was standing there, and I thought I'd go into the house and get my wife. Then I heard the sound of big things hitting the ground, one after another. I'll never forget that.

"Then there was another noise. You know how loudly a young kid can scream? This was 30 times louder. I thought, what the heck is that? All of a sudden - bang, right in the field opposite my house.

"At first I didn't know what it was. I thought at first it was cardboard boxes. It was dark but I could see the outline of something.

"I told my wife, 'Something has landed in that field over there'.

"I drove to the field, and as soon as I went in the top gate I could see the words 'Pan Am' on the front of the cockpit. There was nothing but bodies all around.

"I fetched my ­father-in-law, who jumped in my car.

"We went to the cockpit with a torch and looked in to see if there was anyone alive.

"I could see the ­pilot. There were bodies scattered around the ground outside the cockpit but they were just like rag dolls."

Agnes McLean is a Lockerbie & District community councillor. "At first I thought it was a military plane that had crashed.

"I looked out of the window and I thought I could see something burning. Two seconds later, it hit like an earthquake.

"I was later told it measured 6.7 on the Richter scale. I was less than 50 metres away.

"You could smell the fuel from the plane. There were three seconds of silence [where all you could hear was] the wind whistling through the windows; honestly, it felt like three hours. Then all hell let loose.

"I went through and the Christmas tree was burning. I got the family out of the house. My husband quickly went back in to switch the gas off. He also wanted to retrieve the deed box, which would have made things so much easier, but the bedroom was well alight.

"The telly imploded. The windows imploded. My doors opened and it was just a picture of fire as it rolled in. There was none of us hurt, however.

"We couldn't go down the road because it was burning. We stood outside our diesel tank and said, 'What are we going to do?'

"We went down the field to a neighbour's. Then we went to my mum's.

"My older son, who had been delivering the Scout cards, came back up and saw the whole of our house alight, but the kitchen was still standing, so he went in and picked up a couple of schoolbags.

"He then went down the dual carriageway and helped people get stuff out of their cars. It took us until 10pm to find him."

The first fire crews at Lockerbie were greeted by profound devastation. Among them was Tom McAdam, deputy divisional commander in E Division, of what was then Strathclyde Fire Brigade. Now 70, he retired in 1990.

"I was on duty at Motherwell fire station, the divisional HQ in those days. We got a call from Control - they wanted thermal-image ­cameras, to be taken down.

"I took them in my car to Lockerbie. We thought the cameras would make a big difference but for various reasons they were no use.

"There were no living casualties, they were all dead. There was no heat-difference to show up on the cameras. However, the Dumfries and Galloway firemaster asked us to stay on and assist.

"By the time I arrived most of the fires had been extinguished. The role we were asked to do was to organise fire crews to search for fatalities and ensure that all ­affected properties were searched and identified as having been searched.

"When we got to the town, we realised how bad it was. Most of the townspeople had gone inside, which is very unusual. If you get a big incident, there's always lots of people, standing around, talking.

"The people knew the best thing they could do was to stay indoors. What was amazing was that those who were out on the street just stood, very quiet and respectful.

"One thing that has stayed with me over the years is that those who lost loved ones, the people of Lockerbie did them proud that night - they were amazing."

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