Michael Stryjewski

Michael Stryjewski

United Kingdom
About: Resident in Lockerbie Area, Worked in Lockerbie Area, Disaster Responder - Police, Responding Local authority
Bio: Policeman and resident Michael Stryjewski was one of the first officers on the scene at Tundergarth, where the nose cone of the Boeing 747 crashed. He spent weeks working in response to the disaster- not just in his role as a policeman, but also assisting the work of the Air Accident Investigations Branch. Michael’s story is one of courage and bravery, and demonstrates just how vital local knowledge was in the aftermath of the bombing.
  • First Responder
  • Hometown Hero

One of the First Police to Respond to the Pan Am Nose Cone Crash on Tundergarth Field

The day of the attack

12/21/1988

Policeman and resident Michael Stryjewski was one of the first officers on the scene at Tundergarth, where the nose cone of the Boeing 747 crashed. 

He spent weeks working in response to the disaster- not just in his role as a policeman, but also assisting the work of the Air Accident Investigations Branch. Michael’s story is one of courage and bravery, and demonstrates just how vital local knowledge was in the aftermath of the bombing.

 

Michael knew something was seriously wrong, and wanted to see for himself what exactly was going on.

Despite the horrors that Michael had witnessed in Sherwood Crescent, it wasn’t long before he was required at another crash scene.

Just as Michael was coming to terms with what was unfolding in the town, he was approached about yet another crash scene. This time it was at Tundergarth- a location just a few miles East of Lockerbie.

When it became apparent that this was a catastrophic tragedy unfolding, Michael decided to make his way back towards the town.

He was an experienced pilot and had vast knowledge of Lockerbie and the surrounding countryside. This proved a valuable combination for the initial searches from the skies above.

But even with a growing number of emergency service crews now on the ground, communication was still difficult. There were only two radio channels available for police to exchange messages, and the town was suffering from power and telephone outages

The days following the attack

12/22/1988-12/23/1988

As morning broke on 22nd December, the true extent of the disaster was beginning to emerge. By now, plans were being put in place to safeguard bodies and what could be vitally important debris.

Police forces from all across Scotland were brought in with immediate effect, to watch over the bodies. 

By this time, the army had been sent in to bolster the recovery efforts. Many of the soldiers were fairly new recruits, and wouldn’t have witnessed anything like it.

But it wasn’t just humans who were paramount to the search and recovery mission. Specialist dogs were brought in- and they too found themselves in unchartered territory.

As one of the first policemen on the scene- Michael had witnessed some horrific sights, and in the days following the attack, he was given some mentally and physically challenging tasks. 

But his debrief of events didn’t come from a psychiatrist or mental health professional- it came from his father.

 

Search and suspicion

12/23/1988-1/2/1989

With holding his own pilot’s licence and his expert knowledge of the area, Michael was asked to help assist the Air Accidents Investigations Branch with their initial enquiries. Their first job was to try and find an explanation for the downing of the plane.

The search area was almost incomprehensible, stretching 845 square miles from where the Boeing 747 eventually crashed.

Whilst taking part in a documentary made by National Geographic in 2009, Michael expanded on some of the information regarding the debris. In the following clip, he describes how the debris formed into the shape of a cone.

One of the biggest challenges was recovering pieces of debris that had come to rest in remote places. Michael had finished his work on the sea king helicopter and was now teamed with a pilot on a smaller aircraft.

Back in the town itself, Lockerbie Primary School and Lockerbie Academy were being utilised by a number of organisations. The schools provided a communal hub for the groups to collaborate with their recovery plans.

The community that formed as a result of the attack

12/24/1988-1/10/1989

The incredible community spirit shown by the town’s residents has been spoken of frequently, and Michael remembers it fondly.

Even when people had lost everything, they were still willing to give up their time to help others. Ella Ramsden's whole house was destroyed in the attack- yet she still gave up her time to help others, as Michael explains.

The bun, the sheep and the Mars Bar

1/3/1989-1/15/1989

Numerous days were spent searching for bodies, debris and clues, during which Michael came across some unusual situations. He shares some anecdotes of his time with the search crews.

Briefing families and returning possessions

1/14/1989-4/1/1989

A lot of the families were looking for answers- not just about the disaster itself, but also about the circumstances surrounding their loved ones.

They wanted to know specific details, and Michael was tasked with answering those difficult questions.

As time passed, the thousands and thousands of personal belongings were beginning to mount up, and the authorities decided that it was time to have them cleaned and distributed.

Once the items were ready to be returned to the victim’s families, Michael was asked to help. He traveled all over the country, Europe and over to the US, where he met with families and friends of those who had perished.

Letters of love

2/1/1989-11/5/1989

The world had witnessed one of the most horrific events in living memory, and with victims from all over the globe, people were desperate to express their sympathy. Truck loads of mail arrived in Lockerbie, with messages of condolence.

The investigation

10/1/1990

In October 1990, Michael Stryjewski was the first witness to testify at the public inquiry into the bombing. During questioning, Michael recalled another memory from the night of the bombing. The following information is summarised from Michael’s answers during the inquiry: 

Michael entered a property in Sherwood Crescent after spotting a person standing against a chimney brace. There were flames coming from the house, but Michael managed to search the bedrooms before noticing a ladder which led to the loft space. 

He climbed the ladder and saw a hole in the roof, and was then able to see a person standing against the chimney brace. Michael felt he was unable to assist in the rescue of the person, and so had to leave the property.

A sketch of Michael in court at the initial public inquiry in October 1990. Photo credit- AP.

Mementos from the disaster

1/1/1991

During the years following the bombing, Michael purchased a couple of mementos to mark his involvement in working the disaster. 

The first of those was an independently commissioned ring, which was paid for solely by the remaining members of Police staff during the latter part of the inquiry, as staff members had diminished considerably. 

The ring was designed by staff to represent aspects of the investigation and was made by a jeweller from Glasgow. The bespoke rings were made to fit each individual who ordered one, and they were presented in a special box alongside a certificate to mark their provenance.

The rings were a completely private undertaking, with no involvement from any agency or department.

 

The bespoke ring that Michael and other members of the police force had specially commissioned as a memento from the disaster.

Some years after the bombing, Michael managed to find and purchase a model of a Boeing 747, 100 series. The model is an exact replica, including identical colours, of the Pan Am Flight 103 plane that exploded over Lockerbie.

 

Michael holding his replica Pan Am plane, which gives a good indication of its size. 

Michael managed to track down the model on the internet and bought and paid for it privately. 

A close-up image of the replica plane, where you can see the logo and colours from Pan Am Flight 103. 

Related Stories

Fire Brigade Communications Liaison Officer Remains Calm in "War Zone," Takes Harrowing Photos Documenting Attack

The Night Shift Nurse with No One to Save

Locked in Memories - A Survivor's Haunting Account of Finding a Victim "As If She Was Sleeping"

Your story is our history

Give voice to your unique story about how the December 21, 1988, terrorist attack against America impacted your life. Preserve your memories and legacy by helping to create the most extensive curated digital library of personal Pan Am 103 Lockerbie stories for our Historical Archives.

Explore Further

Authors & Artists Explore More

Authors & Artists

Airplane Loading

Aviation Safety & Security

911 Memorial Wall

Community Partners

Flyers Rights

Flyers' Rights vs. Business as Usual

Daily Mail Cover

Historical Archives: Curated Collections

pa103llf-lasting-impact-legacy-stories-truth-justice-accountability-change.jpeg

Justice & Accountability

Drew Young Participate

Legacy Story Library

Living Memorial Collage

Living Memorial

Lockerbie Then & Now

Lockerbie: A Lesson in Humanity

Arlington Cemetery Memorial Cairn

Memorial Sites & Monuments

Pan Am Employees card 31st Anniversary

Pan Am Employees

Memorial Cairn Dedication

Remembrance Programs & Publications

Syracuse University Campus

Syracuse University

Nose Cone Pan Am Flight 103

The Attack

Group of Young Volunteers

Volunteer