Lockerbie witnesses tell of 'fire raining from skies'

Andrew Buncombe,Netherlands
Friday 05 May 2000 00:00 BST

More than 11 years after Pan Am flight 103 crashed, killing 270, yesterday the people of Lockerbie told of a night that still haunts them, when fire and horror rained on the small Borders town.

One after another, witnesses told in unremitting, stark detail of how 11 of their friends and neighbours died, amid the the blasts and blazes that destroyed streets and homes.

The Scottish Court in the Netherlands was told of fireballs and a mushroom cloud like "an atomic bomb blast" as the plane exploded when it hit the ground shortly after 7pm on 21 December, 1988.

Witnesses told of finding bodies and body parts across their town. The evidence was so disturbing some relatives had to leave the public gallery. On the second day of the trial, 11 witnesses told how large parts of the wreckage came down in three main areas.

Where a large section of the Boeing 747's fuselage came down, there was nothing left but a large, smoking crater. Three miles away, the cockpit landed in a farmer's field, its twisted metal still full of bodies.

Roofs, lawns and gardens were drenched in blazing aviation fuel and fireballs filled the streets. Yesterday was taken up almost entirely by these accounts, and lawyers for the two accused, Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi, 48, and Al Amin Khalifa Fhimah, 44, cross-examined only one witness, Geoffrey Carpenter, a former police superintendent and a Lockerbie resident.

Mr Carpenter said it had been virtually impossible to secure the "crime scene" to the extent police would have wished. He also said FBI agents arrived very rapidly. Legal observers from the University of Glasgow's law school suggested the defence may later claim evidence could have been tampered with.

Mr Megrahi and Mr Fhimah deny charges of conspiracy to murder, murder and breach of the 1982 Aviation Security Act. The trial is expected to last 12 months.

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