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URGENT Pan Am Jumbo Jet Crashes With 258 Aboard

December 22, 1988

LONDON (AP) _ A Pan Am World Airways jumbo jet bound for New York with 258 people on board crashed near Dumfries in Scotland on Wednesday night, Independent Television News quoted the Civil Aviation Authority as saying. (1510EST) .............................................................................

A New York-bound jumbo jet carrying 258 Christmas travelers crashed in a Scottish village Wednesday night, sending up a towering ball of flame and raining burning debris on houses and cars.

Four hours after the Pan Am Boeing 747 crashed at Lockerbie in southwest Scotland, there was no word of survivors among the passengers, some of them U.S. servicemen according to unconfirmed reports.

″We understand that there were no survivors from the aircraft,″ said Bill Robson, chief ambulance officer for greater Glasgow. The Royal Air Force and the Department of Transport also had no reports of survivors.

Nine or 10 bodies were recovered about two miles from the scene, according to a reporter for the British news agency, Press Association.

Les Callaghan, spokesman for Dumfries and Galloway Royal Infirmary, said the hospital treated about 12 casualties, apparently all local people injured when the plane plunged into the village of 2,500.

The cause of the crash was not immediately known. The Civil Aviation Authority said Scottish air controllers talked to the cockpit minutes before the crash and got no indication of any problems.

Pan Am Flight 103 took off from Heathrow Airport outside London at 1:25 p.m. EST and disappeared off radar screens an hour later, said Pat Coffey, spokesman for the RAF Rescue Coordination Center near Edinburgh.

One witness said the plane may have been on fire before it crashed, and others said the plane hit a gas station and several houses in the southern Scotland village, which is 275 miles northwest of London.

Independent Television News said witnesses reported seeing two separate fireballs about three miles apart, but there was no report from aviation authorities that another aircraft was involved in the crash.

″There was a terrible explosion,″ said Mike Carnahan, who was a few hundred yards from the scene. ″It was literally raining fire,″ he told British Broadcasting Corp. TV. ″I don’t think there is any chance of survivors. The way it exploded was just beyond description.″

Coffey also said there were no reports of any survivors. He estimated 15 RAF helicopters with burn specialists were sent to the scene.

″We tried to get near the plane but it was completely on fire, witness John Glasglow told Independent Radio News. ″There were no bodies about. I don’t think there would be any chance of anyone getting out of it.″

Lef Callaghan, spokesman at Dumfries Hospital, told Cable News Network there were 12 casualties on the ground.

Wallace Trail, a BBC producer who was in the village when the plane crashed, said it was ″in chaos at the moment. All the roads in and out of the town are blocked and telephones are down and there are a string of burning houses along the south end of the town.

″I counted at least seven and there is a large crater at the edge of the main dual carriageway, the A74, the Glasgow-Carlisle road.″

Ian Fisher, a reporter for Independent Television News, said: ″The south side of the town near to the main road has been wiped out. Houses have been gutted ... There is a huge pall of smoke hanging over the sky which is lit from the burning houses below.″

Syracuse University officials confirmed an undetermined number of its studennts were on the flight. A U.N. spokesman said the U.N. commissioner for Namibia, Bernt Carlsson of Sweden, 50, also was aboard.

TV networks broadcast emergency telephone numbers in London and New York for relatives’ inquiries. The House of Commons convened for a late-night emergency statement by Transport Secretary Paul Channon.

″There is no speculation at this point in time as to the cause of the accident,″ said Pan Am spokeswoman Pamela Hanlon in New York, who confirmed the crash and said that 243 people and 15 crew members were aboard.

She said no passenger list was immediately available for the flight, which originated in Frankfurt, West Germany, and was due to arrive at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York at 9:19 p.m. EST.

Another eyewitness, hotelier Graham Byerley, told the BBC:

″We initially heard a rumbling over the hotel. We thought the roof was falling in, and then we heard a tremendous shudder on the ground as though it were an earthquake, and then we saw sparks and this enormous flame going 200 or 300 feet into the air. There was debris flying everywhere.″

Carnahan said: ″All I could see was flames and fire. I could see several houses on the skyline whose roofswere totally off, and all you could see was flaming timbers and what was left of the houses.″

Cars could be seen burning on the road, and traffic jams quickly developed, slowing the rush of ambulances and police to the scene.

Carnahan, who lives two miles south of Lockerbie, said after getting home: ″I was driving past the filling station when the plane crashed. There was a terrible explosion ... The crash was very close to the center of the town, in a residential area.

He said: ″There was a terrible explosion and the whole sky lit up and the sky was actually raining fire. It was just like liquid. We have actually found an aluminum rivet embedded in the metal of my car.″

″There’s a lot of rescue services trying to get to the area but the roads are blocked solid with cars and sightseers going over toward the scene of the crash,″ he said. Carnahan said he believed the plane was on fire before it crashed because ″it was trailing flames when it went over the village.″

Flight 103 had taken off 25 minutes late, many of its passengers laden with Christmas gifts, and was at 31,000 feet when contact was lost, the Heathrow Airport Authority said. The Boeing 747 has 412 passenger seats, meaning that Flight 103 was more than half full.

Glasgow said the ″sky lit up″ when the jumbo crashed.

″The whole road was ablaze. Two houses were blazing. The road was completely covered with masonry, garden gates and apparently parts of the plane, but not very big parts,″ he told Independent Radio News. ″There was a lot of smoking debris on fire. It looked as if the road as burning.″

″We tried to get near the plane but it was completely on fire. There were no bodies about. I don’t think there would be any chance... It went up in a fireball.″ Glasgow said the aircraft hit a road, carried on for about 1,500 yards and then exploded.

The last fatal Boeing 747 accident occurred Nov. 28, 1987, when a South African 747-Combi - configured to carry both passengers and freight on the passenger level - crashed in the Indian Ocean near Mauritius, with approximately 160 deaths, according to Boeing.

On Aug. 12, 1985, a Boeing 747 flown by Japan Air Lines crashed into a mountain on a domestic flight, killing 520 people.

The Japan Air Lines crash was the worst single-plane aircraft accident in history. Boeing later admitted its faulty repairs were one of the causes of the crash, which was attributed to a crack in the rear cabin wall that caused a sudden loss of pressure. The force of the air tore the plane’s tail apart.

The Federal Aviation Administration in 1986 ordered a modification of all Boeing 747s as a result of that crash.

David Jimenez of Boeing Commercial Airplanes in Seattle said the jet was a a 747-100. He said it was the 15th 747 ever built and that it was delivered to Pan Am in February 1970.

It had approximately 33,000 cycles, with one cycle representing a takeoff and landing. Even though the jet was relatively old in terms of 747s, that is not considered a high number of cycles, he said. A high number is 50,000-plus.

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