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Reagan Saddened By Pan Am Crash, Offers Help In Investigation

December 23, 1988

WASHINGTON (AP) _ President Reagan, described as ″deeply saddened″ by the Pan Am jumbo jet crash in Scotland, offered condolences to the bereaved and help in the investigation Thursday.

White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said Reagan was briefed on the crash by his national security adviser, Lt. Gen. Colin L. Powell, shortly after the plane went down on Wednesday.

He said the president was continuing to receive updated reports on the crash of the flight from London to New York that killed all 258 people aboard and at least 22 others on the ground.

″President Reagan is deeply saddened by this tragic accident,″ Fitzwater said. ″The president and Mrs. Reagan want to convey condolences to the families of all the victims.″

″The president has promised the full cooperation and support of the U.S. government in the investigation,″ he added.

The National Transportation and Safety Board sent four investigators and the Federal Aviation Administration sent three observers to Britain, but FAA spokeswoman JoAnn Sloane said the investigation, including examination of the ″black box″ flight recorder, would be led by British agencies.

The NTSB investigators included an expert on fire damage and a metallurgist.

The Justice Department also announced it offered the services of the FBI’s forensics and disaster units in the crash investigation. The offer of assistance was being made through L. Paul Bremer, head of the State Department’s counterterrorism office, said Justice Department spokesman Loye Miller.

FBI Director William Sessions, speaking with reporters in San Francisco, said he had reports of ″a number of calls taking credit″ for the disaster. Some callers claimed association with terrorist organizations, Sessions said.

Sessions said FBI bomb experts will visit the crash site ″promptly″ and assist with a technical investigation at Scotland Yard as well.

Authority for the FBI action, Sessions said, comes from federal law allowing investigation abroad in cases of destruction of U.S. aircraft or when Americans might be victims of terrorism.

Fitzwater said the president telephoned British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and told her: ″On behalf of the American people, I want to thank the rescue workers who responded so quickly and graciously. Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims of this accident, both the passengers on the plane and the villagers in Scotland, and with their loved ones.″

Reagan spoke with Mrs. Thatcher shortly after she completed a visit to the crash site near the English-Scottish border, Fitzwater said.

Under questioning, Fitzwater defended the process by which the State Department warned U.S. embassies that a bomb threat had been made earlier this month against Pan Am jetliners flying from Frankfurt to the United States.

He said he could not explain why more people had not been notified of the threat, however, and acknowledged that ″the public should be aware″ of such threats.

″I think that certainly will be looked at,″ Fitzwater said. ″Public notification has to be considered.″

President-elect Bush said that if there was ″hard evidence″ that a specific flight was threatened or that the threat could not be averted, the public should be warned.

But Bush, answering questions after announcing appointments to his administration, warned against giving ″undue attention to what the terrorist wants to call attention to.″

″So often its best to handle these matters by aborting a threat,″ Bush said.

″You’ve got to evaluate the threat, and I’ve found with some experience in the intelligence business enormous numbers of suggestions that there is going to be some terroristic action and most of them never materialize,″ said Bush, a former director of the CIA.