How brother of Lockerbie victim tacked down suspected bomb-maker

How I found the ‘Lockerbie bomber’: Victim’s brother poured over CIA cables, travelled to Libya and met an ‘assassin’ before giving suspect’s name to the FBI – now US is set to charge him

  • US prosecutors are set to charge Abu Agila Mas’ud with making the bomb that blew up Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988 – killing 259 people 
  • Charges against Mas’ud stem from an investigation carried out by Ken Dornstein 
  • Dornstein’s older brother, David, then 25, was one of those killed on the flight 
  • Ken spent six years and $350,000 tracking down Mas’ud, who is thought to be serving 10 years in a Libyan jail for being Gaddafi’s master bomb-maker

When Ken Dornstein first heard of the Lockerbie bombing he was aged 19, sitting in his parent’s kitchen, and had no idea that his elder brother David was on the plane.

Now aged 52, he could soon see the suspected bomb-maker – Abu Agila Mas’ud – charged by US authorities thanks in large part to his own investigative work.

Dornstein was the one who gave Mas’ud’s name to the FBI in 2015, having spent six years and $350,000 of his own money tracking down a man now thought to have been Gaddafi’s master bomb-maker.

As part of his investigation, Ken poured through CIA and Stasi records of Libyan terror attacks in Europe, travelled three times to Libya where he once ended up in a room next door to Abdelbaset al-Megrahi – the only man jailed over the attack – and covertly recorded a man suspected of being a Libyan assassin in Berlin in the 80s.

Speaking to the BBC after reports emerged that US prosecutors are on the verge of charging Mas’ud, he said: ‘It matters for all the families that the facts be known…

‘I think there’s a threat when it seems like there is no narrative… that’s corrosive on the process of grieving, and of putting something behind you.

Abu Agila Mas’ud, a man suspected of being Gaddafi’s master bomb-maker, will be charged in the coming days with building the device used in the Lockerbie bombing, US media reports


The charges against Mas’ud stem from a six-year investigation carried out by filmmaker Ken Dornstein (left), whose brother David (right) died on the flight

243 passengers and 16 crew, 190 of them Americans heading home for the holidays, were killed when a bomb exploded in the hold of Pan Am Flight 103 in the skies over Lockerbie, Scotland, in December 1988, showering the town in debris (pictured)

‘A little bit of truth, if it can be established beyond a reasonable doubt in this case, is always important to fight for.’

David Dornstein, then aged 25, was one of 243 passengers and 16 crew – 190 of them American – who died on board Pan Am flight 103 after a bomb detonated while it was in the skies over Lockerbie, Scotland, on December 21, 1988.

Eleven others died on the ground as the wreckage of the plane fell to earth.

Like many of the American passengers, David was on his way back home for the holidays when he died. He had been due to fly several days later, but switched on to Flight 103 in order to surprise his family.

Following his brother’s death, Ken became a chronicler of his life and in 2006 published a book called ‘The Boy That Fell to Earth’ the focused on David’s achievements and everything he left behind when he was killed.

But in 2009, Ken turned his attention on those responsible for the bombing after Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, the only man convicted over the attack, was released early from Scottish jail on ‘compassionate grounds’ – suffering with terminal cancer.

Over the course of the next six years he poured over records from Megrahi’s prosecution, travelled three times to Libya to interview those who were suspected of the attack but never charged, sat down for dinner with a suspected assassin – and emerged with Mas’ud’s identity, his probable role, and his current whereabouts.

In an extensive 2015 article for the New Yorker – where Dornstein has previously published work – he explained that he first came across Mas’ud’s name in a declassified CIA cable.

The cable, based on an interview with an informant, explained that Mas’ud had travelled with Megrahi to Malta in December 1988, where prosecutors said the bomb that blew up Flight 103 had been assembled and packed into a suitcase, before being sent unaccompanied to London where it ended up on board the plane.

The cable also included Mas’ud passport number – 835004 – but investigators were unsure of Mas’ud’s exact role and whether he existed in real life, or was simply a pseudonym for someone else.

Dornstein sidelined Mas’ud, and in 2011 – after the fall of Gaddafi – went to Libya armed with a list of eight others suspected of involvement in the bombing in order to confront them.

Abdelbaset al-Megrahi was the only man ever convicted over the crime. He was sentenced to life in jail in Scotland, but released in 2009 on compassionate grounds while suffering terminal cancer (pictured). He died in Libya in 2012

During three separate trips to the country he learned that most of the people on his list had died or were inaccessible – he once ended up in a room next door to Megrahi, but was denied permission to meet him.

But the wife of one of the suspects informed him of a Swiss man called Edwin Bollier, who had once confessed to making timers for bombs used by Libyans in terror attacks on Europe – a confession he later recanted during Megrahi’s trial.

Dornstein went to Switzerland and found Bollier, who admitted knowing Megrahi and to renting him an office in his building before the Lockerbie bombing.

He also admitted to travelling to Libya ahead of the attack where he met a ‘dark-skinned colonel’ who matched descriptions of Mas’ud.

Knowing that Bollier’s timers had been used in other European terror attacks and suspecting the masterminds behind Lockerbie may have been involved, Dornstein widened his search and began examining files connected to the La Belle disco bombing in East Berlin in 1986.

Hidden within the files was the name Mas’ud, who was described as a bomb technician who had built the device that blew up the club.

According to Stasi investigators, Mas’ud had arrived in Berlin ahead of the bombing, stayed at a hotel in the city and then left shortly afterwards.

He used aliases to travel, but the Stasi had the number of his Libyan passport – 835004 – the same as the Mas’ud in the CIA cable.

From there, Dornstein was able to track down Musbah Eter, a former Libyan operative based in East Berlin who had admitted to carrying out the Berlin bombing, and who Dornstein suspected had been an assassin for Gaddafi in the Eighties.

Over the course of several interviews – including one dinner where Eter accused Dornstein of working for the CIA – Eter confessed to knowing Masu’d, and revealed that he was still alive and likely in Libya.

Armed with a name and a location, Dornstein went about finding a photo of Mas’ud to complete his identification, and stumbled across a lead in a video of Megrahi’s return to Libya following his compassionate release.

After descending steps from an aircraft to a hero’s welcome, Megrahi climbs into a waiting car and for a split second the face of a dark-skinned man is visible.

Showing the clip to Eter, he said he was ’80 per cent’ sure the man was Mas’ud.

Then, in 2015, the western-backed government in Libya started a series of show trials for former members of the Gaddafi regime – parading the accused in front of cameras for photos that were published by western media.

Lurking in the background of a shot of Abdullah al-Senussi, Gaddafi’s intelligence chief, was a man who matched the image from Megrahi’s return.

Dorstein again turned to Eter, who confirmed ‘100 per cent’ that the man in the background was Mas’ud.

It was at that point that Dornstein turned his investigation over to the FBI, who interviewed Eter in the US embassy in Berlin in July 2015.  

Eter told US officials that Mas’ud and Megrahi were involved in Lockerbie, and that he had heard Mas’ud speak of travelling to Malta to prepare the attack. 

Now, five years on from that interview, the Wall Street Journal has reported that US officials will unseal charges against Mas’ud in the coming days.

Mas’ud is currently in jail in Libya, serving a 10-year sentenced handed down by the US-backed government for being a bomb-maker who made devices used to target those who opposed Gaddafi before his death at the hands of rebels.

There are now hopes he could be extradited to stand trial in the US.  

The attack, which happened 32 years ago on Monday next week, sparked global investigations and sanctions against Libya, which ultimately surrendered intelligence officials wanted in the attacks for prosecution in Europe. 

Three decades of doubt: 30 years later there are still unanswered questions over Lockerbie

December 21, 1988

Pan Am Flight 103 from Frankfurt to Detroit, via London and New York, blows up over Lockerbie in Scotland. A total of 270 people died

November 1991

Britain and the US accuse Libyans Abdelbaset Al-Megrahi and Al Amin Khailifa Fhimah of the bombing. However, Libyan authorities deny involvement

January 1995 

MPs demand an inquiry after US intelligence suggests Iran was behind the bombing, instead of Libya

January 2001 

Megrahi was convicted of mass murder while Fhimah is found not guilty

August 2003 

The UN lifts sanctions on Libya. Blame was accepted in Tripoli and the government compensates families of the victims

August 2009

Megrahi is freed after being diagnosed with prostate cancer.  He did not die until 2012  

May 2018

A review of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi’s conviction for the bombing is to be carried out by the Scottish Criminal Cases Commission  

November 2018 

The Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission says there was no criminality in the Megrahi case

Former Libyan intelligence official al-Megrahi was the only man ever convicted of the bombing, with a second Libyan suspect acquitted of all charges. 

Al-Megrahi was given a life sentence, but Scottish authorities released him on humanitarian grounds in 2009 when he was diagnosed with prostate cancer. 

He died in Tripoli, Libya in May 2012.

Masud faces charges of destruction of an aircraft resulting in death and destruction of a vehicle of interstate commerce resulting in death.

Authorities in the US claim he travelled to Malta ahead of the bombing, where he constructed the bomb and filled a suitcase with clothing before it was placed on the flight.  

The new case is said to be based on a confession made by Masud to Libyan authorities in 2012.

It comes after a third appeal against the conviction of al-Megrahi brought by the convicted murderer’s son was launched at the High Court in Edinburgh last month. 

The appeal was lodged after the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) referred the case to the High Court in March, ruling a possible miscarriage of justice may have occurred. 

Judges then granted his son, Ali al-Megrahi, permission to proceed with the appeal in relation to the argument that ‘no reasonable jury’ could have returned the verdict the court did, and on the grounds of non-disclosure of documents by the Crown.  

In a statement issued before the hearing started, family lawyer Aamer Anwar, who represents the family, said: ‘It has been a long journey in the pursuit for truth and justice.

‘When Pan Am Flight 103 exploded over Lockerbie nearly 32 years ago, killing 270 people from 21 countries, it remains the worst terrorist atrocity ever committed in the UK.

‘Since then the case of Abdelbaset Al-Megrahi, the only man ever convicted of the crime, has been described as the worst miscarriage of justice in British legal history.’

He added: ‘The reputation of the Scottish criminal justice system has suffered internationally because of widespread doubts about the conviction of Mr al-Megrahi.

‘It is in the interests of justice that these doubts can be addressed; however, he was convicted in a Scottish court of law and that is the only appropriate place for his guilt or innocence to be determined.’

Megrahi’s first appeal against his conviction was refused by the High Court in 2002 and was referred back five years later following an SCCRC review.

He abandoned this second appeal in 2009, shortly before his release from prison on compassionate grounds while terminally ill with cancer. 

Earlier this year lawyers for al-Megrahi demanded access to secret Government papers as they appeal against his conviction over the 1988 terror attack which left 270 dead. 

His family said it is ‘in the interest of justice’ that the defence get to see the two documents, which are covered by a public interest immunity certificate. 

Mas’ud was a top bomb-maker for late Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi (pictured), reports claim. He is alleged to have assembled the device which blew up over Scotland in 1988

Victims, pictured, of the bombing included dozens of American college students

Who was Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset al-Megrahi?  

Former Libyian intelligence officer Abdelbaset al-Megrahi is the only person to have been convicted of involvement in the Lockerbie bombing which claimed 270 lives

Former Libyian intelligence officer Abdelbaset al-Megrahi is the only person to have been convicted of involvement in the Lockerbie bombing which claimed 270 lives. 

Was jailed in 2001 for his role in the attack which brought down Pan Am flight 103 on December 21, 1988, in what became the worst terrorist attack on British soil. 

The Boeing 747 jet took off from London Heathrow airport around 30 minutes before it exploded as it cruised at 31,000 feet above the Scottish borders. 

Al-Megrahi was convicted on the basis of evidence from Maltese shop owner Tony Gauci, who died in 2016 aged 75.   

Mr Gauci ran a clothes shop in Swieqi, Malta, at the time of the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 and claimed that Megrahi bought a piece of clothing found among the debris of the aircraft.

His evidence helped to secure the 2001 conviction of the former Libyan intelligence officer for the atrocity in which 270 people died, including 11 people on the ground. But some doubts were subsequently raised about Mr Gauci’s reliability.

Megrahi was the only person to have been convicted of the bombing over the south of Scotland on December 21 1988.

He was jailed for life but an investigation by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) led to a finding in 2007 of six grounds where it is believed a miscarriage of justice may have occurred, paving the way for a second appeal.

The Libyan dropped that appeal in 2009 before being released from jail on compassionate grounds due to his terminal prostate cancer. He died protesting his innocence in Libya in 2012.

The trial judgment detailed how the three judges were satisfied Megrahi had walked into Mr Gauci’s shop and bought items of clothing which ended up packed around the bomb that exploded in a suitcase on board the flight.

Al-Megrahi, pictured here following his release from prison on compassionate grounds in 2009 claimed he was innocent of the crime

Lockerbie’s last secrets: The little boy saved by a Christmas tree, the rock star who missed fatal flight and the radar blip that suddenly became five… haunting minute-by-minute details of air disaster revealed after 30 years 

5.30pm, Dec 21, 1988

At Gate 14, in Heathrow’s Terminal 3, passengers for Pan Am Flight 103 are starting to board the Maid Of The Seas.

The Boeing 747 has been refuelled for the 3,000-mile flight to New York and the last of the luggage is being loaded.

Bags and Christmas presents for friends and family are being placed in overhead lockers.

Shipping executive Tom Ammerman takes his seat in First Class. He was originally booked on a lunchtime departure, but his office switched flights at the last minute so he could be at one more meeting before flying home.

Pan Am Flight 103’s wings hit Sherwood Crescent at 500mph, disintegrating on impact and leaving a crater more than 150ft long and 30ft deep 

In Row 23 are the Rattan family returning from New Delhi after attending a relative’s wedding.

Earlier, on the first leg of Flight 103 from Frankfurt on a Boeing 727, three-year-old Suruchi Rattan, dressed in a distinctive red dress, had entertained a man in the row behind with stories of her uncle’s big day.

Finding their seats in the middle of the plane are 35 students from Syracuse University who have spent a term studying in London and Florence.

Three-year-old Suruchi Rattan was one of the passengers killed during the bombing

Two of the empty seats in First Class should have been taken by the Sex Pistols singer Johnny Rotten and his wife Nora. But she had taken so long to pack for their holiday that they cancelled their tickets and booked a flight for the next day.

Actress Kim Cattrall (later of Sex And The City fame) was also booked on Flight 103. But at the last minute she changed her mind as she had forgotten to buy her mother a gift of a teapot from Harrods. Kim, 32, is at Heathrow waiting to board a later flight to New York.

In an aluminium baggage container in the aircraft’s forward cargo bay area is a light brown suitcase. It contains a Toshiba ‘BomBeat’ radio cassette player. Placed inside is 450 grams of Semtex plastic explosive attached to a timer. The suitcase is only 25in from the skin of the 747’s fuselage.

5.55pm

Back in Terminal 3, car mechanic Jaswant Basuta, 47, is running as fast he can towards Flight 103’s departure gate.

He is unsteady on his feet as he’s been drinking with relatives who’d come to see him off. Basuta gets to the gate and pleads with the Pan Am duty manager to let him on, as his wife is expecting him in New York. But the duty manager refuses.

6.04pm

The Jumbo moves away from the gate and begins to slowly taxi towards Heathrow’s runway 27R. At the controls are two American pilots: 55-year-old Captain Jim MacQuarrie, who has over 4,000 hours’ experience flying 747s; and First Officer Ray Wagner with 5,000-plus hours’ experience.

6.25pm

In the darkened flight deck, Capt MacQuarrie opens the throttles of the four engines and the 330-ton jet begins to move down the runway.

Twenty minutes later, Pan Am 103 takes off through thick cloud into the dark sky. On board are 243 passengers and 16 flight crew.

6.45pm

Three hundred miles away in the small Scottish market town of Lockerbie, 14-year-old Steven Flannigan is leaving his home at 16 Sherwood Crescent and heading through the wind and rain to friend David Edward’s house to check a Christmas present — a new bicycle — for Steven’s little sister Joanne.

Steven (pictured) lost both parents in the aircrash and it affected him for the rest of his life. He invested the money he received from Pan Am and the Libyan government. He tragically died in 2000 when he was hit by a train after drinking 14 pints of lager and ‘falling asleep’ on the track when his son Luke was just three years old

6.58pm

Cabin crew are serving drinks and handing out headphones for the in-flight movie, Crocodile Dundee II. The plane levels off at 31,000ft. ‘Good evening, Scottish. Clipper One Zero Three. We are level at three one zero,’ Capt MacQuarrie says to Prestwick Air Traffic Control. ‘Good evening,’ replies air traffic controller Alan Topp. ‘Route direct to five nine, north, one zero west’.

He watches the 747 move across his radar screen as a bright green cross. Pan Am Flight 103 is six miles above the Scottish border.

7.02pm and 50 secs

The Semtex bomb in the suitcase detonates, creating a 20in hole in the fuselage. Massive cracks instantly appear along the fuselage’s aluminium skin, which starts to peel off. The lights in the cabin go out and the plane de-pressurises. It starts to pull apart. The flight deck recorder captures the sound of the nose section breaking away, which is blown back, hitting the right wing and smashing off one of the engines, then the tail assembly.

The main cabin is now exposed to the elements and, as the plane disintegrates, most of the passengers are thrown from the fuselage into temperatures of -46c. They are rendered unconscious by lack of oxygen. Anything not fixed down is thrown from the plane.

At Prestwick Air Traffic Control, Alan Topp stares at his screen as Pan Am 103 transforms from one green blip into five.

7.03pm

As the main cabin section reaches 19,000ft, it drops vertically and the disintegration accelerates. Only about 15 rows of seats remain fixed to a section of floor. The full-length streamlined wing, 200ft long and containing 20,000 gallons of fuel, is falling fastest at a speed of around 500mph. Among the plane debris, Christmas presents, Bibles, money, toys and suitcases are tumbling through the night sky.

As the heavy wreckage falls, many passengers are caught in a strong wind and carried east. Some regain consciousness as they reach more breathable air.

Locals search through the rubble after debris from the plane came crashing down on the Scottish town. 

A passenger strapped into a seat clutches a crucifix; two friends hold hands and a mother clutches tightly on to her baby. The engines are still running and No3 engine is burning fuel as it falls — looking like a fireball.

In Lockerbie, 59-year-old widow Ella Ramsden is opening Christmas cards in her house on Rosebank Crescent. On the television, Michael Aspel is just about to surprise Sooty’s puppeteer Harry Corbett on This Is Your Life. Ella’s Jack Russell starts to growl.

‘What on earth’s wrong with you?’ she asks.

In a garage a few streets away, Steven Flannigan and David Edwards are building Steven’s sister’s bike. ‘What’s that noise?’ David says. ‘It’s thunder,’ Steven replies. Then the strip-light in the garage falls to the ground.

Forty-six seconds after the bomb detonates, Pan Am Flight 103’s wings hit Sherwood Crescent at 500mph, disintegrating on impact and leaving a crater more than 150ft long and 30ft deep, vapourising Dora and Maurice Henry and their house at No13, the Somerville family at No15, and Steven Flannigan’s family at No16.

A fireball shoots up 300ft and spreads towards the nearby A47 dual carriageway, scorching cars heading south. Drivers swerve to avoid the wreckage. Further along Sherwood Crescent, a vast lump of concrete thrown up by the blast crashes through the roof of Sarah Lawson’s house and onto the chair she’d been sitting in seconds before.

Ella Ramsden can see a huge red glow through the window. ‘Is this the end of the world?’ she thinks.

Older Lockerbie residents are having flashbacks to World War II. The British Geological Survey seismic monitoring stations in southern Scotland record an event measuring 1.6 on the Richter Scale.

Six weeks after the disaster, the search for bodies ended. 259 passengers and crew and 11 Lockerbie residents had been killed. Pictured is the part of the wreckage from Pan Am Flight 103

Ella scoops up her dog and runs for the back door. There is a loud roaring sound and she is sucked backwards as a 60ft-long section of the fuselage hits her house. The lights go out and the building starts to collapse around her.

Too scared to move, she screws her eyes tight shut and calls out to her dead husband: ‘Harry, what’s happening?’ She glances up and sees the night sky. The whole top floor of the house has gone.

In his farmhouse at Tundergarth, three miles south-east of Lockerbie, farmer Jimmy Wilson is about to sip a cup of tea when the lights suddenly go out. Then the nose containing Pan Am 103’s flight deck and crew slams into his field.

7.04pm

Bodies start to fall on Lockerbie. As resident Bunty Galloway runs out of her house, two young women drop out of the sky and land in the street in front of her.

Most of the passengers and crew are probably dead before they hit the ground, although one rescuer will claim to find a woman’s body with mud and grass in her clenched hands, as if she had moved after landing.

By torchlight, people can see corpses and parts of bodies in the streets. Letters, paperwork and money are blowing down the roads. The smell of aviation fuel is everywhere.

7.10pm

With the help of neighbours, Ella Ramsden escapes from her wrecked house. As she walks through her garden, she can see white plastic Pan Am cutlery scattered across the grass.

7.20pm

The phone rings in the Heathrow office of Pan Am duty flight controller Brian Hedley. Air traffic control tells him that Flight 103 is lost. Hedley immediately alerts his colleagues at JFK Airport.

7.30pm

RAF Search and Rescue helicopter pilot Geoffrey Leeming is replastering his spare bedroom when colleague Ken Park calls.

‘Have you been drinking?’ Park asks. ‘No, Ken. And a Happy Christmas to you, too!’ Leeming jokes. But he soon discovers the purpose of Park’s question. All crews must fly to Lockerbie to help in the aftermath of what’s believed to be a plane crash. He has to be sober.

The first ambulances are leaving for Dumfries and Galloway Royal Infirmary carrying injured Lockerbie residents. Hospitals have been put on standby to receive casualties, but so far there are only two serious and three minor cases. At Tundergarth, Jimmy Wilson and his family are walking across their field towards the 747’s nose section. By the light of their torches, the Wilsons can see three bodies.

Two are dead, but a third, a stewardess, appears to be moving. June Wilson searches for a pulse but the woman is dead. June’s daughter Kate runs to the house for blankets to cover the bodies.

The wreckage of the PanAm airliner that exploded and crashed over Lockerbie in Scotland in 1988

Policemen and firemen look at the scene of devastation in Lockerbie on December 22 – hours after the incident in 1988

7.33pm

On Channel 4, Peter Sissons breaks the news that a Pan Am 747 has crashed.

7.45pm

PC John Henderson’s house is only 100 yards from the crater at Sherwood Crescent. Having led his wife out of danger, he reports for duty at the police station.

He is almost in tears. As he walks past the ambulance station, he sees a passenger sitting half in and half out of a large hole in the ground. PC Henderson gets something to cover the body.

8pm

American TV networks start running with news of the loss of Pan Am Flight 103.

8.05pm

The Dumfries and Galloway emergency plan for a major incident — designed to deal with an explosion at the nearby nuclear power station, not a plane crash — is activated.

8.45pm

ITN is showing the first live TV pictures of the fires in Sherwood Crescent. In his RAF Wessex helicopter, Geoffrey Leeming is approaching the town. The fires make it look like there is an active volcano in the heart of Lockerbie.

9.30pm

Steven Flannigan is at the town hall with others standing in rain waiting for news of loved ones. He asks a policeman if there is any word of his family.

The officer looks at a list and says: ‘Mrs Flannigan has been registered as alive’. Then he looks again and apologises — the names have been hastily written and he has misread ‘Mr S. Flannigan’ as ‘Mrs Flannigan’. Family friend Bill Harley puts a comforting arm around Steven and leads him away.

10pm

Many residents are discovering bodies around their homes. Bunty Galloway finds a boy lying on her garden steps. Not realising he is dead, she places a lambswool travel rug over him ‘to keep him warm’.

More than 3,000 miles away, Susan and Daniel Cohen are driving to JFK Airport. Their daughter, Theo, was on the flight. Susan is so distraught that she opens the car door to throw herself out while it’s moving.

Homes were destroyed after the plane was attacked and debris came hurtling down to the ground in Britain’s worst terror attack in 1988 

The Lockerbie disaster where a giant crater was blown in the ground after the bomb went off in the air

‘It seemed the logical and inevitable thing to do,’ she said later. As he drives, Dan puts out one arm to restrain his wife.

In Maryland on the U.S. east coast, Rosemary Mild is dusting her house. She can’t think of any alternative distraction.

Her 20-year-old step-daughter Miriam was one of the students travelling home. Rosemary knows it’s irrational to be dusting, but friends and family will be coming round soon and she wants the house tidy.

10.30pm

Police have set up a temporary mortuary in the basement of Lockerbie town hall. A farmer in a pick-up truck pulls up.

The police help him unload debris, then notice someone fast asleep in the passenger seat wrapped in a coat. They think it is the farmer’s son, then realise it is the body of a young boy.

The Cohens arrive at JFK’s Pan Am terminal. Dan abandons the car, engine still running.

Inside, they are escorted through a crush of cameras to the Clipper Class Lounge on the first floor. Downstairs, the parents of Nicole Boulanger, 21, are told the plane has crashed. Jeannine Boulanger collapses on the floor screaming: ‘Oh, my baby!’

11pm

Ambulances are lined up along Lockerbie’s main street, but there is no use for them. There are no survivors from the plane and all the Lockerbie injured have already been taken to hospital.

At a phonebox nearby, a queue of journalists wait to dictate their reports of the disaster to their newsrooms.

At the town hall mortuary, a weeping farmer brings in the body of a three-year-old girl in a red dress. It is Suruchi Rattan.

Midnight

Twenty dog teams are now searching the area. Pan Am 103 was carrying a consignment of sewing needles, so some dogs have injured paws. A local vet is trying to treat them.

Remains of the aircraft came tumbling down onto Lockerbie when the bomb went off mid-air as the flight began the London leg

1am, December 22

In the St Mungo Arms pub near Sherwood Crescent, a group of regulars and reporters are watching footage of the burning town on television in silence.

The barman points out an old man standing near the reporters whose wife is missing. When they ask him about his wife, he says quietly: ‘If she’s all right, she’ll ken where to find me.’

1.30am

Steven Flannigan is staying the night at the home of his friend Bill Harley. As he lies in the spare room, Steven’s heart is beating so fast it’s making his breathing uneven. It will be a week before a social worker officially tells him his parents and sister are dead, but he already realises the terrible truth.

2am

Dr Keith Little of Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, one of the medics searching Sherwood Crescent, is finding bodies with metal embedded in them. He is convinced an explosion must have brought the plane down.

5.30am

In Maryland, Rosemary Mild’s home is full of friends and family who have come to support her and husband Larry.

She has been trying to get through to Pan Am for seven hours for news of their daughter Miriam. Finally, a Pan Am agent answers. Rosemary asks: ‘Was my daughter on Flight 103?’ ‘There’s an M. Wolfe on the manifest,’ the agent says brusquely.

It’s a common name, so for a moment Rosemary has hope it’s not her daughter. Then the agent gives the contact number they have for Miriam — her London flat. Rosemary hangs up and doubles up in pain. She whispers to her husband to ask their friends to leave. All she can think is, ‘They all have their children.’

Five months later Rosemary will receive Miriam’s suitcase. It is dented, but inside are her clothes, which have been lovingly washed and ironed by women in Lockerbie.

Among the clothes is a Christmas star for their family tree.

Search parties roamed the nearby fields in search of anyone who may have survived the attack. One man has described how they mainly found body parts

7.50am

As dawn breaks, the scale of the disaster is clear for the first time — 120 bodies have been found, but the search continues.

A policeman searching fields at Tundergarth near the plane’s nose section sees a woman’s face staring up at him from a pool of peaty water. Nine other bodies are found later in the marsh. 9am

Geoffrey Leeming is flying his Wessex helicopter over the fields around Tundergarth. From his cockpit, he can see bodies scattered across the fields. Each body has a policeman standing watch next to them.

10am

Searching the fields near their home, farmer’s sons Stuart and Robbie Dodd spot a long piece of metal with a box attached to it. On its side is printed ‘DATA REPRODUCER 1972’ — it’s the Digital Flight Data Recorder and the Cockpit Voice Recorder of Pan Am 103.

Midday

All morning, local residents have been coming into Yvonne and Jimmy Haldane’s shop on Mains Street to buy something, then forgetting what it was they wanted. The Haldanes know this is a classic symptom of shock.

1pm

On their sheep farm eight miles outside Lockerbie, Hugh and Margaret Connell are keeping watch over the body of a dark-haired man.

Earlier, the Connells asked a rescue team if they could take the man to their home out of the biting cold, but were told the body could not yet be moved.

The Connells keep their vigil for 24 hours. Later they will discover that the passenger they called ‘our boy’ was 45-year-old Frank Ciulla, who was on his way home to his wife and three children. The way the Connells cared for Frank provides some comfort for the Ciullas.

9pm

The phone rings in the Philadelphia home of Dr Perry Dornstein. An agent from Pan Am asks: ‘Is this the family of David Dornstein?’ Perry says it is, and the agent says: ‘Things are a little confused. Could you please hold?’ Dionne Warwick’s song Do You Know The Way To San Jose? then plays down the phone.

David, 25, has been living in Israel for a year, and the family aren’t expecting him until later this week. But David had decided to surprise his family and come home early — on Flight 103.

As the agent breaks the news to Perry, his son’s body is lying under a collapsed wall in Ella’s garden. It will be found by a sniffer dog in four days.

A giant crater was left in the road at number 13 Sherwood Crescent. The wing section of the airliner, and its load of 30,000 gallons of fuel, hit the house, killing 11 residents of the town

Homes in Sherwood Crescent were wiped out by the plane as it broke up in the air and pieces came hurtling down on homes

11pm

A bouquet has arrived at the town hall. It is from the passenger on the Frankfurt flight with whom three-year-old Suruchi Rattan had chatted. The flowers come with a note: ‘To the little girl in the red dress who made my flight from Frankfurt so much fun: you didn’t deserve this.’

Aftermath

On January 4, 1989, 100 relatives who lost loved ones gathered in Lockerbie’s parish church. Later, a memorial listing the names of all the victims was erected in the cemetery.

Six weeks after the disaster, the search for bodies ended. 259 passengers and crew and 11 Lockerbie residents had been killed.

One week after the crash, the Air Accidents Investigation Branch found traces of explosive. A thousand police and Army personnel began a fingertip search of the countryside that recovered more than 10,000 items.

In 2001, Libyan Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, the only person convicted of the bombing, was sentenced to life in prison.

He was released on compassionate grounds in 2009 and died of cancer in 2012.

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