Remembering Pan Am 103

It’s December 21, 2008.  It’s been 20 years since the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland.  All 259 people on board were killed; the debris killed another 11 people on the ground.  I didn’t know any of them, but the loss of these innocent people has touched me greatly.

35 of the people on board were Syracuse University students who had been studying in London and Florence for the semester.  They were young students returning home for the holidays after the time of their lives.  I just read this column: and at the end, Sean Kirst quotes Norman Reuter.  Norman tells a story with which I’m familiar.  I had heard it before.

During the spring semester of my junior year at Syracuse I studied in London.  I was already very aware of the Flight 103 disaster, but that spring it became all that much more real to me.  For one of my journalism classes, we took a field trip to Lockerbie.  There were 35 of us on that trip and it is one I will never, ever forget.

While we did manage to have fun, share laughs and find a pub, it is the quiet time I remember more.  We toured the town with a native who told us where the plane landed, where things had been on fire, where bodies had been found.  It was one of the most horrific things I had ever heard.  It made me sad and mad at the same time.  How could someone do this?  Why would someone want to do this?  I asked myself that many times that weekend; and still do.  I wish I could understand the answers given.

As I said, there were 35 of us on this trip.  The same number of Syracuse students lost that day.  All 35 of us fell silent when we arrived at the hillside where the cone of the plane landed.  You could still see the point of impact, as it had been indented the earth.  Across the street was a memorial to all of those lost.  A small rock structure stands just off the road.  In it, you’re invited to write in a journal that has been kept since the memorial was built.  A memorial garden with plaques is just behind the small building.  Families and friends have put their memories into words and shared them with all of us.

What struck me most was how quiet it was.  Birds chirped, a mist had fallen and it was otherwise silent.  The calmness of it all was such a juxtaposition to what had happened there 10 years before.

Thinking about it brings me to tears.  Here are these innocent people who, in the students’ cases, wanted to go home to their families.  They wanted to share their stories, their pictures, their memories.

It is what Norman Reuter told me and some classmates after our trip that I like to remember when, in times like now, I have tears streaming down my face.  A few days before our trip, I was in Norman Reuter’s class and we had taken a field trip to the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square.  We were standing at the front entryway when he asked what we were doing that weekend.  Those of us headed to Lockerbie told him so.  He told us the same story he told those gathered in Syracuse this past October.

He had a student who came to him just before his flight to pass in a paper.  Professor Reuter wished him well and the student told the professor that he and his friends were buying things to take on the plane for a party.  Professor Reuter told us, “They were an hour into their flight and having the time of their lives.”

That is how I like to remember these people I never knew.  They were happy.


3 responses to “Remembering Pan Am 103

  1. Slightly heavy stuff. Evoked some memories on this end too.

  2. It’s so amazing how quickly time passes. I was in Lockerbie for the 10th anniversary ceremony and am sure that there’s a similar marking going on today. My thoughts go out to everyone involved, especially the family of Stephen Boland from Nashua.

  3. Kara,

    I don’t remember whether we were in Lockerbie as part of the same trip up from London, but my own experiences were much like yours. Although, as a faculty member I didn’t cry, while all the students who went into the little Lockerbie chapel, did. Lockerbie is such a small town to become such a big memorial. After appropriate mourning, best to go to Dumfries, sit in a pub, and celebrate Bobby Burns. In his day, the only bombers were in drinks.

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