'Debris was falling from the sky'

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The Independent Online

Like many other residents of Lockerbie, Geoffrey Carpenter was watching television when he heard the noise in the sky that was to rain fire and devastation upon his town.

"My first impression was to ignore it," Mr Carpenter, a former police superintendent with the Dumfries and Galloway force, told the Scottish Court in the Netherlands. "Lockerbie is a low-flying area for military aircraft. It was my initial impression that it was a low-flying aircraft that I heard."

Moments later, however, he heard a screaming noise and an "almighty explosion". He ran into his garden. "There was a glow in the sky and what appeared to be debris 400-600ft in the air, and you could see debris falling from the sky interspersed with sparks and everything else," he said. "Slightly to the north I could see a metal object in the sky. It was one of the engines."

After the wreckage fell to earth, Mr Carpenter, 56, rushed to the part of the town where a large part of the fuselage had hit. There he tried to set up a command post and help organise other local officers. All of the time he was aware of the stench of aviation fuel, and of debris and shattered glass filling the streets.

Later he took the force's deputy chief constable to various locations in the town, and as they made their way around, they were updated with information about the scale of the disaster. "We had heard about cars burnt out on the A74," he said. "There was evidence, certainly in Rosebank Crescent, of bodies among the debris."

In the first few hours, Mr Carpenter struggled to organise the chaos with virtually no communications equipment: the phone network was down, police radios were only working intermittently, and a borrowed mobile phone did not work. Later he was assisted by the military and HM Coastguard, which provided a communications network.

Asked if the town had now recovered from the catastrophe, Mr Carpenter replied: "It is difficult to say, it has affected people in different ways ... I would like to think that when we get to the end of [this trial] we will get back to normal. It is something we will have to live with for the rest of our lives."

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