Unlawful Interference Boeing 747-121A N739PA, Wednesday 21 December 1988
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Date:Wednesday 21 December 1988
Type:Silhouette image of generic B741 model; specific model in this crash may look slightly different    
Boeing 747-121A
Owner/operator:Pan American World Airways (Pan Am)
Registration: N739PA
MSN: 19646/15
Year of manufacture:1970
Total airframe hrs:72464 hours
Cycles:16497 flights
Engine model:Pratt & Whitney JT9D-7A
Fatalities:Fatalities: 259 / Occupants: 259
Other fatalities:11
Aircraft damage: Destroyed, written off
Category:Unlawful Interference
Location:Lockerbie -   United Kingdom
Phase: En route
Nature:Passenger - Scheduled
Departure airport:London-Heathrow Airport (LHR/EGLL)
Destination airport:New York-John F. Kennedy International Airport, NY (JFK/KJFK)
Investigating agency: AAIB
Confidence Rating: Accident investigation report completed and information captured
Flight PA103 departed London-Heathrow runway 27R for New York at 18:25. The aircraft levelled off at FL310, 31 minutes later. At 19:03 Shanwick Oceanic Control transmitted an oceanic clearance. At that time an explosion occurred in the aircraft's forward cargo hold at position 4L. The explosive forces produced a large hole in the fuselage structure and disrupted the main cabin floor. Major cracks continued to propagate from the large hole while containers and items of cargo ejected through the hole, striking the empennage, left- and right tail plane. The forward fuselage and flight deck area separated when the aircraft was in a nose down and left roll attitude, peeling away to the right at Station 800. The nose section then knocked the no. 3 engine off its pylon. The remaining aircraft disintegrated while it was descending nearly vertically from 19000 feet to 9000 feet. A section of cabin floor and baggage hold (from approx. Station 1241-1920) fell onto housing at Rosebank Terrace, Lockerbie. The main wing structure struck the ground with a high yaw angle at Sherwood Crescent, Lockerbie causing a massive fire.
The Semtex bomb which caused the explosion had probably been hidden in a radio cassette player and was transferred to PA103 from a Pan Am Boeing 727 flight, arriving from Frankfurt.
After a three-year joint investigation by the Dumfries and Galloway Constabulary and the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation indictments for murder were issued on November 13, 1991, against Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi, a Libyan intelligence officer and the head of security for Libyan Arab Airlines (LAA), and Lamin Khalifah Fhimah, the LAA station manager in Luqa Airport, Malta. United Nations sanctions against Libya and protracted negotiations with the Libyan leader Colonel Muammar al-Gaddafi secured the handover of the accused on April 5, 1999.
On January 31, 2001, Megrahi was convicted of murder by a panel of three Scottish judges, and sentenced to 27 years in prison. Fhimah was acquitted.

PROBABLE CAUSE: "The in-flight disintegration of the aircraft was caused by the detonation of an improvised explosive device located in a baggage container positioned on the left side of the forward cargo hold at aircraft station 700."

Accident investigation:
Investigating agency: AAIB
Report number: AAIB AAR 2/90
Status: Investigation completed
Duration: 1 year and 7 months
Download report: Final report


Air Safety Week 12 April 1993 (p. 3)
Aviation Week & Space Technology 2.1.89 (28-32)
ICAO Circular 260-AN/154 (p.133-188)

History of this aircraft

Other occurrences involving this aircraft

4 November 1970 N739PA Pan American World Airways (Pan Am) 0 over Nantucket, Massachusetts non


  • 2nd worst accident in 1988
  • 3rd worst accident of this aircraft type
  • 2nd worst accident of this aircraft type at the time



photo (c) AAIB; Lockerbie; December 1988

photo (c) AAIB; CAD Longtown; December 1988

photo (c) AAIB; CAD Longtown; December 1988

photo (c) AAIB; 21 December 1988

photo (c) AAIB; 21 December 1988

photo (c) Arno Janssen; Frankfurt International Airport (FRA); December 1985

Revision history:


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