Apocalyptic vision that confronted Lockerbie

Court hears of the night fire and death rained down on a small town in the Borders as it prepared for a quiet Christmas
Click to follow
The Independent Online

FLames, Fireballs, mushroom clouds and the air being sucked from the streets. These were the apocalyptic visions that confronted the people of Lockerbie the dark night that the wreckage of Pan Am Flight 103 fell upon their town.

Minutes earlier it had been still and quiet, families preparing for Christmas, just four days away. Many were watching television. Some remember they were watching This Is Your Life.

"I became aware of this noise. It got very loud," Stuart Kirkpatrick, 38, a builder who lived in the town's Rosebank Crescent, told the Scottish Court in the Netherlands yesterday. Rushing to the door of his house he saw a "great large fireball". Then he saw a cloud of smoke. "It was just like pictures of the Hiroshima bomb going off in Japan you see on TV. You could feel the wind and heat coming up towards us."

A large part of the fuselage of Pan Am jet had crashed into the houses opposite Mr Kirkpatrick's home, where his neighbour Ella Ramsden lived. Rushing across he discovered only her kitchen remained; miraculously she and her dog were standing in it unharmed and he was able to lift them out.

As Mr Kirkpatrick was rescuing his neighbour, three miles to the west of Lockerbie in the hamlet of Tundergarth, Kevin Anderson found the cockpit of the plane in a field next to his house.

The 35-year-old plasterer had been outside fixing his car when he heard the explosion and rushed to the crash scene with his father-in-law. The site was littered with debris and pieces of paper blowing around. Witnesses said it was a windy night.

"[There were] bodies lying around the cockpit," said Mr Anderson. "I could not believe it. We tried to do what we could ... to see if anyone was still alive. [I] looked inside, yeah. I could see the pilot, two people in the front who I assumed were the pilots. "I looked in where it had been broken off and there was just wreckage and bodies."

He said he had no idea how many bodies there were but he was certain there was no sign of life. "No, nothing."

Sherwood Crescent, in the south-west of the town, was where another large part of the fuselage landed and exploded, close to a petrol station. All 11 of the Lockerbie residents who died that night lived there. In his house, William Pattie, saw one of the Boeing 747's engines land 30ft from him.

His concern was for for his sister-in-law Dora Henry and her husband Maurice, whose house had stood where the fuselage hit. "The first thing we knew was that the house was blown up. They were never found," he said.

He had tried to get to the spot where their house had been - but by then there was nothing more than a crater. "You could not go near it because of the heat. You could not see it for the flames."

Also in Sherwood Crescent was Jasmin Bell, 53, a social worker, who was delivering Christmas presents with her son in Lockerbie. A resident of Dumfries, she had lost her way and had gone to her brother's house in the crescent to ask for directions.

She was outside when the falling airliner passed above her at little more than roof height - a shadow of "dark, grey metal".

Mrs Bell said: "Within seconds there was fire just raining down. There was just fire around me. The fire was falling down from the sky ... landing on the ground. I stepped back and back and back until my back was against the wall - I could not go any further.

"Fire was still coming down. I remember thinking I was going to be burned. I almost felt a calmness at that point."

Mrs Bell was saved at the last moment when her brother dragged her into his house through a side-door. Later she and her son headed back to the streets.

"Everything was burning," she said. "The lawns, the hedges, the roof-tops. It looked like everything was burning. I remember running down the driveway having to hop over what I can only describe as small camp fires."

At the bottom of the drive she and her son literally stumbled on some of the bodies scattered from the destroyed aircraft.

"My son looked down and said, 'What's that mum?', she told the packed court. "I remember my reaction was, 'That's OK, that's just meat'. Then it registered that it was not meat.

"I recall later seeing my brother's garden and he had put white cloth - white cloths - dotted around the garden. They were obviously parts of bodies and he had covered them."