Mayday (2013) s07e02 Episode Script

Lockerbie Disaster

(CHOIR SINGS 'SILENT NIGHT') NARRATOR: It's a few days before Christmas.
The residents of a small Scottish town prepare for the holidays.
Danger is fast approaching.
The street was on fire.
Lawns were on fire and houses were on fire.
I had never seen anything like that.
Christmas is gonna be remembered for all the wrong reasons.
A devastating plane crash shatters a village and captures the attention of the world.
It was one of the most significant terrorist attacks in history.
The mystery is finally cracked by a piece of debris smaller than a fingertip.
(SHUTTER CLICKS) (DISTORTED RADIO CHATTER) October 26, 1988, near Dusseldorf.
- (YELLS IN FOREIGN LANGUAGE) - (SHUTTER CLICKS) For weeks, German police have been following a group of suspected terrorists around the ancient town of Neuss.
Huh? Today they'll make their move.
(SPEAKS GERMAN) In the trunk of their car, police make an unusual discovery.
Police raid apartments used by the two men.
They find a number of blank passports and a small arsenal of weapons.
When police closely examine the radio recovered from their car, they find it's wired with explosives.
MAN: Those devices used a combination of an improvised barometric device and a timer - a short-delay timer.
All these devices were, in fact, supposed to go onto an aircraft.
A barometric timer is set off by changes in altitude.
It's triggered when it reaches a certain height.
Since that guarantees a plane will be in the air when the bomb goes off, it's a favourite device for those targeting passenger jets.
The two men arrested in Germany worked for a well-known terrorist organisation - the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
The leader of the PFLPGC, Ahmed Jibril, made a speech in Libya in 1986 and one of the things he said was that until there's peace in the Middle East there would be no safety for anyone travelling on an American or an Israeli airliner.
Two months later, Pan Am Flight 103 is on its way from London to New York.
Most of the passengers are American.
Charles McKee actually works for the US government.
Khalid Jaafar lives in Detroit and is returning home from a trip to Lebanon and Germany.
The first part of the trip to the United States takes the plane north-west up over Scotland.
The so-called Daventry departure is one of six preset routes that jets follow on their way out of Heathrow.
Lockerbie is one of several small towns the plane will pass over.
Pan Am calls their 747 'Clipper Maid of the Seas'.
As it levels off at 31,000ft, the crew gets in touch with air traffic control.
Good evening, Scottish.
Clipper 103.
We are level at 310.
103, you are identified.
Five miles below, the people of Lockerbie prepare for Christmas.
Michael Gordon is chatting with a friend when a strange rumbling noise fills his house.
Hang on.
There's something odd outside here.
(RUMBLING) The weather that night was a bit wild.
There was a fairly strong westerly wind and I could hear it hitting the window in front of me.
From my window I can see Lockerbie, 'cause my house sits up on a hill.
And I heard this noise, which was above the noise of the wind and the noise sounded like thunder.
And the noise got louder and louder.
And I could hear the noise then got to the stage of being similar to a jet fighter.
And at that time we had a lot of military aircraft passing through the area.
(WIND WHISTLES, CRASHING, RUMBLING) However, I saw dark objects, dark things, falling from the sky.
Against the lights of Lockerbie I could see these black objects coming down.
And then, from my right, quite high on my right, I could see a long, thin, black object, which had a fire on the upper surface coming in.
And it was making its way towards Lockerbie.
Hello! Hello! When the explosion took place, the telephone line stopped functioning.
Lockerbie is burning.
Enormous flames reach into the night sky.
Michael Gordon races to the neighbourhood that is hardest hit.
The street was on fire, the lawns were on fire and houses were on fire.
But I remember, at that point, finding an airline ticket and it was perfectly intact.
There was no damage by fire or fuel or contamination of any sort.
And the airline ticket said, London Heathrow to JFK.
Somehow Pan Am Flight 103 has fallen from the sky and smashed into Lockerbie, Scotland.
In the daylight, the full horror of the crash of Pan Am Flight 103 is obvious.
Several houses on the ground have simply vanished .
vaporised when the plane smashed into them.
And enormous crater is torn through the southern edge of the town.
11 people from Lockerbie are dead, along with all 259 people who were onboard.
Air crash investigators have arrived in Lockerbie within hours of the crash.
Mick Charles is the lead inspector for the British Air Accidents Investigation Branch, the AAIB.
One of the first sites we went to was the site of the crater.
That was still smelling very much of aviation fuel, for a start.
And scattered all around were bits of debris and, in some cases, human tissue as well.
More than 1,000 police officers and 600 members of the military pour into Lockerbie.
Any debris that's found is put into clear plastic bags and left to be collected later.
Dark bags are used to store human remains.
It's just days before Christmas but the holiday spirit has been shattered.
The RAF have offered us a helicopter.
- Can we use it? - Absolutely.
With so much wreckage being found, investigators need to get a bird's-eye view and locate the largest fields of debris.
Investigators bring local police officer Michael Gordon with them to help in the search.
The intention was for me to be able to identify geographical landmarks and identify parts of the aircraft.
They soon get a better sense of their enormous task.
When we were in the helicopter, we could see that the wreckage came out in a cone shape, emanating from Lockerbie, and the cone shape got wider and wider the further from Lockerbie.
They're shocked by what they find.
Pieces of the plane are scattered over an area larger than all of London.
More than 2,000 square kilometres.
It quickly becomes clear that Pan Am 103 was coming apart long before it hit the ground.
A 747 is made up of more than 6 million parts.
In the mangled remains of the jet, investigators need to find the one that will tell them what happened.
The plane's cockpit is eerie proof that Pan Am Flight 103 broke apart in midair.
Severed from the rest of the plane, it's 4km east of the city.
When looking at the cockpit, I was looking at the roof of it and the windows were intact.
The actual nose part had cracked open.
But it was if it had been chopped off just after the cabin and you could walk around the back and look into the cabin section from the back.
Inside the cockpit, investigators note the positions of various switches and controls.
They find the autopilot is on and the oxygen masks are still stowed.
There was nothing at all untoward found in the cockpit.
It waseverything was consistent with cruising flight.
Soon investigators discover why the damage to Lockerbie was so devastating.
Investigators estimate that the plane was loaded down with 90,000kg of fuel.
150 tons descending, essentially vertically, at up to about 500 knots speed and there's an awful lot of energy in that.
And that's what created the crater.
To find the cause of the crash, however, investigators will have to look elsewhere.
While the painstaking work of collecting evidence continues, investigators comb through maintenance records.
Those records raise concerns with the plane's age.
'Clipper Maid of the Seas' was the 15th 747 ever built by Boeing.
Perhaps some critical part of the plane had given way as it flew over Lockerbie.
The two obvious possibilities were that it was a straightforward structural failure or it was possibly the result of sabotage.
Mick Charles? Tom Thurman, FBI.
Good to meet you, Tom.
I was expecting you.
THURMAN: We were there to provide technical expertise to the Scottish investigators into explosives and explosive damage and that the telltale sign that it could be a bomb.
Just 3.
5 years before Lockerbie, a bomb had brought down an Air India jet just off the Irish coast.
In that case, the plane, and vital clues, sunk deep to the bottom of the sea.
But the wreckage of the Pan Am flight litters the Scottish lowlands.
If it was a bomb, there's a chance that important evidence can be found.
THURMAN: With the fragments that we found on the ground, we were picking those up, we were looking for blast damage on these pieces of metal.
But until we found something that said it was a bomb - physical evidence - it was an accident.
In the first 24 hours, four separate groups have claimed responsibility for bombing the jet.
MAN: (ON RADIO) The Guardians of Islamic Revolution are undertaken this heroic execution in revenge for the blowing of the Iranian airplane by America.
Dick Marquise is an expert on international terrorism, working for the American FBI.
MARQUISE: A number of organisations either claimed credit for or were given credit, including groups from Iran and the Palestinian groups and one Irish group also claimed responsibility for it.
Six months earlier, the US navy shot down an Iranian passenger jet.
290 people were killed.
The American government claims it was an accident but Iran has vowed revenge.
(CROWD CHANTS) Other threats had been made in the weeks before the crash.
The American Embassy in Helsinki received an anonymous warning that a bomb would soon be put on a Pan Am flight leaving from Frankfurt.
Officials eventually discounted the threat, but a notice was posted in American embassies.
Many of the passengers who boarded Flight 103 had come from Frankfurt on a connecting flight.
Excellent work, everyone.
Then, on Christmas Eve, just three days after the crash of the plane, the investigation gets an enormous break.
You'd like to put your gloves on, I think, for this.
Mick Charles had a bag and had a piece of metal in the bag.
What is it? We think it's a piece of luggage rail.
It helps guide the cargo containers into place.
Inspectors in the field discovered items which they recognised as being not part of a normal failure sequence that you would expect if it had been a structural failure.
Small marks had been made on the metal, craters that are the telltale signs of a bomb.
The hot gases of the combustion process of the explosion hits a piece ofparticularly metal and it puts pits in it like you would take a blowtorch.
Take a blowtorch and you have a piece of metal and you just barely touch the piece of metal, it'll make a little hole down into the metal.
The Scottish countryside is about to become the largest crime scene in the world.
- (BELL TOLLS) - It's Christmas Day, 1988, but in Lockerbie, Scotland, people are still reeling from a devastating plane crash.
For air crash investigators, December 25 is treated like any other day at work.
That was, in my mind, the most distinguishing characteristic of Lockerbie and although it was over Christmas, you just stay there and you do what you have to do.
Investigators converge on a farmer's field outside of the town.
MAN: Over here! Keep yelling.
We can't see you! Over here! The weather had turned horrible - foggy, kind of misting rain.
You couldn't see 10 feet in front of you and there was debris literally all over the place.
Another piece of the baggage compartment rail has been found.
That looks like the piece that you showed me last night.
About 20 inches is just gone.
And lo and behold, that was the other piece of the skid rail that was literally sticking in the ground.
This piece also has pits and craters in it - indications that it was close to an explosion.
(BOOM!) The pieces of wreckage are part of the southern debris field and near the beginning of it.
The placement suggests they were some of the first parts to break off the plane.
We were very suspicious that it was a bomb which had caused this destruction, but we were not prepared to say anything until we'd had those details confirmed by the forensic experts.
A British forensics lab has made the critical link.
Traces of two chemicals used to make plastic explosive are found on the debris recovered near Lockerbie.
On December 28, just seven days after the crash, investigators have their proof and announce it to the world.
It has been established that two parts of the metal luggage pallet's framework show conclusive evidence of a detonating high explosive.
Our mandate, with regard to Lockerbie, was find out who did it and prove it because what we wanted to do was bring someone to justice and make them answer for killing 270 people.
With terrorism now the official cause, rumours start to fly.
Speculation eventually focuses on two passengers.
Charles McKee works for the US Department of Defence.
Charles McKee was returning from the Middle East where he was working trying to free hostages that had been taken in the Middle East during the mid-1980s.
The hostages McKee was trying to release were being held in Lebanon.
In 1988, a civil war was tearing that country apart.
McKee isn't the only passenger who captures the attention of the media.
Khalid Jaafar was 20 years old and was returning home to the US after a trip to Lebanon and Germany.
Perhaps a bomb was carried on board the aircraft by someone who may have had a Middle Eastern-sounding name.
Jaafar was examined as a potential suspect.
The story makes it as far as the US Congress but no proof can be found that Jaafar was involved or that McKee was the intended target.
We looked at every single passenger on the plane to see if, in fact, someone could've given them a bomb.
The evidence proved that not to be the case.
In Lockerbie, investigators from the AAIB continue to sort through the tons of tangled metal.
Investigators are particularly interested in the hull of the aircraft.
They move pieces of it to a military hangar just outside of town.
POLLARD: It was a five-acre shed which was long enough that we could plan to lay the fuselage out as it opened up like a clam shell using the bottom centre line of the aircraft as our sort of core line.
The fuselage of an airplane is bolted to a series of frames and each frame is numbered based on how far it is from the front of the aircraft.
MAN: Before we laid out the wreckage two-dimensionally, we put lines and tapes on the floor to give us a grid and this grid related to the geometry of the aeroplane.
They begin to reassemble it, like an enormous jigsaw puzzle.
Because of a lot of the structure bears characteristic shapes that you can say immediately, "This looks like a door frame.
" A lot of stuff has unique part numbers which can help you identify small and fairly what you would call 'unidentifiable' bits.
As the work continues, more pieces of the plane are found that show telltale blast damage.
The location is 8-1-7/204.
When they gather the pieces that are near the front of the plane, investigators make a chilling discovery.
This is where the bomb had started ripping the plane apart.
It became apparent that there was an area of the aircraft in which the damage was really quite different from the rest.
The fuselage in this section isn't torn, but blasted to pieces.
The fuselage structure in the area of the explosion was blackened and sooted.
The fractures were very rapid and jagged, unlike normal tearing fractures of skin.
Frame 700 runs right round here.
Not only do investigators now know it was a bomb, they know where it blasted through the fuselage of the plane - just outside of the forward luggage compartment.
Peter Claiden is responsible for reassembling the cargo containers that were directly behind the shatter zone.
The main goal I had was to identify the baggage container that contained the device.
We had maybe 20 baggage containers of a similar construction, so it's like having 20 jigsaw puzzles all mixed up.
The investigators concentrate on the cargo containers that were found in the southern debris field - wreckage that was ejected shortly after the explosion.
We concluded that there were only two on the aircraft - one made of aluminium, one made of fibreglass - and they had to have been adjacent to each other on the aircraft and they were the only two that exhibited evidence of an improvised explosive device having detonated.
The metal container AVE 4041 is of particular interest.
It was resting directly behind frame 700, where the blast damage is the worst.
The damage caused to the metal container was quite severe.
The damage to the adjacent fibreglass container, I think you might call it 'collateral damage'.
Investigators create a simple framework and attach the pieces of the real cargo container to it.
As they do, it becomes clear.
AVE 4041 carried the bomb that brought the plane down.
Closely examining damage to the floor and the side of the container, investigators are also able to pinpoint the height of the bomb .
where it was in the container when it exploded.
What that said to me was that the device was probably in a suitcase and that suitcase was probably not on the floor of the container.
It looked like it was one level up.
According to luggage records, it means that the bag containing the bomb had come from a connecting flight.
While investigators are assembling a piece of the metal container, the discover a fragment of wreckage that doesn't belong.
When looking at it I saw a little piece of debris trapped in one of the folds.
So gently flexing this apart, it fell out.
When I looked at it I could see it was a fragment of a printed circuit board, an electronic circuit board.
Can you bring me a camera and an evidence bag, please? Let's get this to the lab.
I didn't know whether it was a bomb, part of the aeroplane, really, or what.
Could've been somebody's shaver, for all I know.
Eventually, forensic experts in Britain determine that the circuit board was a piece of a specific brand of radio.
News of the discovery makes its way to Washington.
It reaches Tom Thurman, who's returned to his office there.
And, lo and behold, an identification was made into a Toshiba SF16 radio and, ironically enough, the name on the side of that radio just is a brand name, I guess, was called a 'BomBeat' radio.
The radio cassette player had hidden the bomb.
It's very similar to the one that was recovered by German police when they cracked the Palestinian terrorist cell two months before the bombing.
Had German police somehow missed something? Had a bomb made here been used on the Pan Am flight? When the bombing happened, one of the initial suspects certainly was the PFLPGC cell in Germany.
The intelligence told us that the PFLPGC was probably responsible for this.
49 passengers who eventually boarded the Pan Am flight started their journey in the German city of Frankfurt.
Their bags were placed onto Flight 103 in London but the airline did not ensure the passengers who checked in the bags actually got onto the plane.
Perhaps a bomb made in Germany has slipped through the cracks at Heathrow while the terrorist walked away.
We had to then, if that was the case, prove it.
As the investigation continues, there's a puzzling discovery.
While made by the same company, the cassette player used in the Lockerbie bombing is slightly different from the one that was seized in Germany.
Both were contained in Toshiba radios but one was a one-speaker model and the one that blew up the Lockerbie plane was a two-speaker more updated model radio.
The difference in the model of radio being used raises doubts.
Perhaps the terrorists in Germany are not responsible.
THURMAN: If you can look at the way a device is put together and say, "Hey, I know who put this together because I've seen this before "and this is the way that this bomb builder puts a bomb together.
" They call it a 'bomber's signature'.
Law enforcement officials need more clues to figure out who had built the bomb.
Perhaps the suitcase it was packed in can provide those clues.
Studying small pieces of wreckage, British forensic experts find that the suitcase was a hard-sided Samsonite 4000.
Samsonite made only a few thousand of these suitcases and sold all of them in the Middle East.
Several pieces of clothing have also been identified that were very close to the explosion .
likely in the suitcase that concealed the bomb.
Most of these clothes were made by a single manufacturer and were only sold on the tiny island of Malta.
So Malta became the focus of the investigation because of the manufacture and eventually distribution of the clothes, some of the clothing that was found at Lockerbie.
Investigators find the shop in Malta where the clothes were sold.
The owner gives them another clue.
The key thing that he told us was the person had a Libyan accent, something we didn't really have evidence yet that tied Libya to the bombing.
It was just two weeks before the attack on the Pan Am flight.
In 1988, Libya was reeling from a number of confrontations with the American military.
Economic sanctions had been imposed.
The country was isolated and its leader, Moamar al Gaddafi, aggressively anti-American.
Perhaps the bombing of the Pan Am flight was an attack by Libya against the United States.
Poring through baggage records for the Pan Am flight, police discover one piece of luggage that had been carried from Malta to Frankfurt earlier that day.
Bag number B8849 had then been sent through to Britain's Heathrow Airport.
Once there, it was placed on the second level of cargo container AVE 4041.
It was the Samsonite case investigators now know carried the bomb.
More than a year after the crash, a new discovery in Lockerbie helps simplify the confusing series of clues.
Forensic experts discover another circuit board from among the clothes that came from Malta.
THURMAN: It doesn't come from that circuit board that was in the SF16 radio and this circuit board is half the size of your thumbnail.
A photo of the circuit board is sent to Tom Thurman.
He believes it could be a piece of the timer from the bomb.
I spent months, literally, looking through all of the files of the FBI on other examinations that we had conducted over many, many, many years.
The FBI has photos of timers used to detonate bombs around the world.
But Thurman can't find any that match the piece found at Lockerbie.
After a period, I just ran out of leads and at that point, it was like, "OK, we need to go outside the physical FBI laboratory.
" Thurman eventually takes the photo of the circuit to the Central Intelligence Agency.
Sifting through reports on various bombings, Thurman finds a match.
Wait a second.
That could be the same.
Do you have this timer? When Thurman closely examines the timer captured by the CIA, he's stunned.
Within a few minutes, literally, I started getting cold chills and right now as I talk about it, cold chills start on me 'cause I can still see that moment so vividly in my mind that I'm looking at a circuit track look just like what I'm seeing in the photograph.
This is what we're looking for.
The timer the CIA has was seized in Africa a few years earlier.
Two Libyan men were trying to get it and several pounds of explosives past airport security.
It's identical to the timer used to bring down Flight 103 .
and wouldn't be set off by changes in pressure like the barometric switch discovered in Germany.
This device was set to go off at a certain time, not at a given altitude.
This is a timer.
This is a long-delay timer that brought down that aircraft but now we wanna know, "OK, where'd this come from?" The Lockerbie bomb used a different timer and a different radio than the bomb found in Germany.
Someone else was behind the destruction of the jet.
This was not made in somebody's home laboratory.
This was a, uh .
extremely professionally made timer.
While the criminal investigation becomes murkier, the accident investigation is becoming increasingly clear.
The investigation eventually moves from Scotland to Farmborough, England, well known for its aeronautics industry.
The town is home to the AAIB.
Several months after the crash of Pan Am Flight 103, investigators launch a massive endeavour.
They begin to rebuild a 20-metre section of the fuselage from the ruined jet.
They can see that the explosion tore a 1.
5m x 5m hole in the side of the plane.
Chris Protheroe is a senior inspector of air accidents at the AAIB.
What was very difficult to understand was the fact that this area of direct damage was effectively a pinprick in relation to the size of the aircraft as a whole, and it was very difficult to understand how this pinprick of damage had resulted in such a comprehensive destruction of the aircraft.
The bomb that brought the plane down had less than half a kilogram of explosive, yet its destructive power was immense.
Investigators want to learn more about how shock waves behave inside a jet.
It's rather like a freeze frame on video footage.
If you can capture that point as the thing is coming apart, it tells you a great deal about the way it's coming apart.
What they discover is that the initial blast wave wasn't the only one to damage the plane.
A large section of the ceiling of the aircraft has been pushed up with so much force that the rivets connecting it to the plane's frame popped.
It wasn't torn apart, but blasted by a shock wave.
The other features that the 3-D reconstruction allowed us to identify were areas of remote pressure damage on the crown skin and other areas where explosive shock had been channelled through the internal spaces in the aircraft.
The inside of a jet acts like an echo chamber, bouncing the shock waves of the bomb around.
They gather strength until they encounter a weak spot in the skin.
When they do, they blast through.
The work in Farmborough is powerful proof of how destructive even a small bomb can be .
and how vital it is to track the bombers down.
Almost two years after the Lockerbie disaster, the criminal trail of evidence brings investigators to Zurich.
The timer that detonated the bomb is traced to a Swiss company called MEBO.
One of the owners of the company admits to building it.
The timer was given to the Libyan government.
A total of 20 of them were made, all delivered to Libyan officials.
Early in the investigation, focus was directed at the Palestinian terrorist group in Germany.
Now there's growing proof that they had nothing to do with the downing of Flight 103.
MARQUISE: There are any number of suspects and it wasn't until we kept putting everything in one pile and the pile kept stacking up and it spelt 'Libya'.
Criminal investigators have linked the timer that detonated the bomb to Libya.
They know that a Libyan bought the clothes that were in the suitcase.
And they know that Libya has a recent history of military confrontation with America.
All they need now is the bomber himself.
In 1999, they finally have him.
At the time of the disaster, Abdel al-Megrahi was an intelligence officer for the Libyan government.
He's arrested and charged.
He was a high-ranking Libyan official.
He certainly could have access to whatever he wanted.
Our investigation determined that Megrahi also had a front company at MEBO.
He had been there many times.
They certainly knew each other.
When you start to see all the connections and these things just start fitting together, it made it easier to accept our evidence.
In 2001, Scottish judges sentence him to life for the murder of 270 people.
Two years later, the government of Libya officially accepts responsibility for the bombing and pays 2.
7 billion to the families involved.
Anger is also aimed at Pan Am for the role it played in the disaster.
A Scottish inquiry points a finger at the company.
The passenger who checked the bomb onto Flight 103 did not get on board.
It's a fact that Pan Am could have discovered, had it been following proper procedures.
One of the things we discovered when we looked into the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 was that there were several bags on that plane that did not correspond to passengers.
One of the changes that came about as a result of the Air India bombing was that airlines were forced to make sure no bag was put on a plane without a passenger accompanying it.
It's called 'passenger baggage reconciliation'.
Without proper notification, Pan Am had stopped matching passengers and baggage at Heathrow Airport.
So that rule that said that all passengers and luggage have to be matched was not followed.
The company was eventually found guilty of wilful misconduct.
After the crash and the court ruling, Pan Am declared bankruptcy.
20 years after the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, its shattered fuselage still stands in Farmborough, England.
Those pieces may soon be used to train investigators here and around the world .
a critical aid in case terrorists strike again.
The enduring feeling I have as a result of Lockerbie is the tremendous level of cooperation we had from all the agencies, and considering that there were about 2,500 people with the military, the police and so on involved in this, I think that's a great tribute.
Lockerbie was a rare occasion that we felt honoured to be a part of - to help make this happen.
We played small roles but everybody played small roles to make big contributions to an overall success.
In the town of Lockerbie, there's little evidence today of the horror that exploded from the sky 20 years ago.
In a small church near where the dying plane's cockpit landed is a stark reminder of the toll of terror and the importance of bringing the guilty to justice.
Supertext Captions by Red Bee Media Australia