21 December 1988, the day Pan Am flight 103, Clipper Maid of the Seas, was destroyed by a terrorist act, is a date that anyone connected with Pan American World Airways, passenger, employee, friend or fan “ will always be", to quote President Franklin D. Roosevelt, "the day which will live in infamy."
For many, this tragic and awful catastrophe marked the beginning of what was to be the slow demise of the once great airline. During the course of the past two weeks Pan Amers all over the world have been posting messages on the social media with thoughts about the events of that horrible day and the loss of their colleagues and passengers on that flight and the people of Lockerbie, Scotland. In addition, memorial events have been scheduled around the world as well as a call for a moment of silence at 1902 hours, GMT, the moment Clipper Maid of the Seas disappeared from radar.
Pan American flight 103 was the last of three daily nonstop Pan Am flights scheduled between London Heathrow and New York Kennedy airports. It originated in Frankfurt Main with a Boeing 727 and changed gauge to a Boeing 747 at Heathrow for its trans Atlantic sector. The scheduled departure was 1800 hours.
At about the same time, Roger Cotton, a London businessman driving west on Bath Road, which runs parallel to Heathrow's runways, saw a Boeing 747 lift off and noted that it was a Pan Am Clipper, likely heading to New York. In London, Denny Rupert, a student on his way to the United States to visit his parents for the holidays, had checked into a hotel for the night. He was originally booked on Clipper 103, but elected to take a flight the next day so he could spend extra time in London with friends rather than his parents in Minnesota.
At about 1900 hours, at 31,000 feet with a ground speed of 434 knots on a northwesterly track of 321 degrees, Clipper 103 was picked up by the Scottish Area Control Center at Prestwick, Scotland, where it needed clearance to begin its crossing of the Atlantic Ocean. The aircraft appeared as a small green square with a cross at its center showing its transponder code. The code gave information about the time and height of the plane: the last code for the Clipper showed it was flying at 31,000 ft.
Captain James Bruce MacQuarrie called Prestwick: "Good evening Scottish, Clipper one zero three. We are at level three one zero." Then First Officer Ronald Wagner spoke: "Clipper 103 requesting oceanic clearance." These were the last words heard from Clipper 103. Soon after that, air traffic controller who watched the Clipper as it crossed Scottish airspace, saw that the aircraft's transponder stopped replying somewhere over Lockerbie. The ATC controller tried again to communicate with the aircraft, but there was no reply. Not one, but several radar returns on his screen altogether disappeared.
By courtesy: James Patrick Baldwin-- an author, blogger, lecturer and consultant in air transportation, an Adjunct Associate Professor at the University of Maryland University College and an Adjunct Instructor at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (Worldwide).
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