98for98: The century in photographs: today 1988

: The century in photographs: today 1988
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Indy Lifestyle Online
The Independent's photo-history of the 20th century today looks at the disaster-strewn year of 1988.

The picture above shows the horrific conclusion to Pan Am flight 103. In Britain's worst air disaster, 259 passengers and at least 11 people on the ground were thought to have died when the aircraft disintegrated at its cruising height of 31,000ft and crashed to earth near the small Scottish border town of Lockerbie.

The Boeing 747 had been bound for New York from London when it disappeared from radar screens at just before 7.30pm on 22 December. Though the plane was 19 years old and, therefore, one of the more elderly 747s still in service, there was immediate speculation as to whether a bomb had caused the catastrophe - and various US embassies admitted that they had recently received warnings of the possibility of just such an attack on a Pan Am plane.

Two years before, Libyan-backed terrorists had been suspected of a bomb explosion aboard a TWA Boeing 727, an action that contributed to the US decision to launch air strikes against Libya the same year.

Ten days prior to the Lockerbie disaster, the world's busiest railway station - Clapham Junction, in London - was the scene of Britain's worst railway accident for 20 years when 36 people died as a packed morning rush-hour commuter service crashed into the back of another.

A third, empty train then careered into the wreckage. British Rail immediately stated that a fail-safe mechanism had not worked correctly. In addition, faulty signalling and train overcrowding - there had been over 1,000 passengers on the two trains - were provisionally cited as factors in the fatal collision.

December's disasters followed July's fatal blaze aboard Occidental Petroleum's Piper Alpha oil rig in the North Sea. Of the rig's 227 workers, 150 perished when two explosions ripped through the rig.

Crucially, the first of these destroyed the rig's control centre, hampering effective escape operations. Faced with certain death in the 500ft flames that subsequently consumed the rig, many of the oilmen took their chances in the near boiling seas that surrounded Piper Alpha.

Mike Higgins