Britain was commemorating the 20th anniversary of the Lockerbie bombing yesterday, recalling the night a US-bound jet carrying 259 passengers and crew was blown up over a Scottish town.
Memorial services were to take place from 2pm in the small, quiet community of some 4,000 people, where 11 people were also killed on the ground as flaming debris from the plane crushed houses.
Relatives of the dead were to attend a service at Heathrow Airport, where Pan Am Flight 103 took off on the night of Dec. 21, 1988, carrying mostly Americans home for Christmas.
Barely 40 minutes into the flight to New York, the Boeing 747 was ripped apart by a bomb in the luggage hold at an altitude of 9,400m, killing everyone on board.
A probe eventually led to the jailing for 27 years of a former Libyan intelligence officer, Abdelbaset Ali Mohmet Al-Megrahi.
He is serving his sentence in a prison in Scotland and now suffers from cancer.
The bomb killed 180 Americans, and plunged ties between Libya and the West into a chill that has only recently thawed.
Libya has now been welcomed back into the international fold, but some Lockerbie residents continue to be haunted by memories of the night the jet crashed from the skies on to a town decked out in Christmas decorations.
“It was the nearest thing to hell I ever want to see,” said retired police inspector George Stobbs, 74, who had just returned home when he saw a TV newsflash.
Heading to nearby Sherwood Crescent, where the 11 residents perished, he said: “There was this great crater, a great mass of burning. The heat was intense. I saw an iron gate melting as if someone was putting a blow torch on to butter.”
Maxwell Kerr, 72, remembers finding poignant reminders of the passengers.
“It was families going home at Christmas. We did find lots of Christmas presents lying scattered about. There was men, women, children and babies. It’s horrific when you think about it,” he said.