Air accidents Investigation Branch

Aircraft Accident Report No 2/90 EW/C1094 Operator: Pan American World Airways Aircraft Type: Boeing 747-121 Nationality: United States of America Registration: N 739 PA Place of Accident Lockerbie, Dumfries, Scotland Latitude 55 07' N 003 21' W Date and Time(UTC) 21 December 1988 at 19.02:50hrs All times in this report are UTC


The accident was notified to the Air Accidents Investigation Branch at 19.40 hrs on the 21 December 1988 and the investigation commenced that day. The members of the AAIB team are listed in Appendix A.

The aircraft, Flight PA 103 from London Heathrow to New York, had been in level crusing flight at level 310 (31,000 feet) for approximately seven minutes when the last secondary radar return was received just before 19.03 hrs. The radar then showed multiple primary returns fanning out downwind. Major portions of the wreckage of the aircraft fell on the town of Lockerbie with other large parts landing in the countryside to the west of the town. Lighter debris from the aircraft was stewn along two trails, the longest of which extended some 130 kilometres to the east coast of England. Within a few days items of wreckage were retrieved upon which forensic scientists found conclusive evidence of a detonating high explosive. The airport security and criminal aspects of the accident are the subject of a seperate investigation and are not covered in this report which concentrates on the technical aspects of the disintergration of the aircraft.

The report concludes that the detonation of an improvised explosive device led directly to the destruction of the aircraft with the loss of all 259 persons on board and 11 of the residents of the town of Lockerie. Five recommendations are made of which four concern flight recorders, including the funding of a study to devise methods of recording violent positive and negative pressure pulses associated with explosions. The final recommendation is that Airworthiness Autorities and aircraft manufacturers undertake a systematic study with a view to identifying measures that might migate the effects of explosive devices and improve the tolerance of the aircraft's structure and systems to explosive damage.

Link to full Aircraft Accident Report