Collage of newspaper headlines about the 1988 terrorist bombing of Pan Am flight 103
Attack Timeline
Collage of newspaper headlines about 1988 terrorist bombing of Pan Am flight 103

The 1988 bombing of Pan American Airways flight 103 over Lockerbie Scotland was preceded by years of airline hijackings and security breaches. The bombing was followed by 9/11 in 2001. Both were terrorist attacks against the United States of America carried out by taking advantage of inadequate airline security and poor communication between government agencies. Both attacks were foreseeable events

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Pan Am Flight Nose Cone

On December 21, 1988 terrorists waged an attack on America. A bomb they planted on a Boeing 747 that was flying from London to New York exploded in the night sky above Lockerbie, Scotland. All 259 people aboard Pan Am Flight 103 and eleven on the ground were murdered.

The Attack Timeline details exactly what happened on that December day, the events that foreshadowed the attack to come, the response on the ground after, memorial efforts, and the collective action of grieving family members in the year following.

The attack on Pan Am 10...


September 1, 1969


Muammar Gaddafi Takes Power in Libya

After staging a coup d’état, Gaddafi becomes the de facto leader of Libya. D...


August 19, 1981


Gulf of Sidra Incident

In this first military dispute between the United States and Libya, the U.S....

April 5, 1986

La Belle Disco Entrance after Bombing

La Belle Nightclub Bombing

After years of escalated tensions between Libya and the U.S., a bomb explode...

April 15, 1986

President Ronald Reagan meeting with members of the u.s. congress

The U.S. Military Bombs Targets in Tripoli and Benghazi

Nine days after the nightclub bombing, President Reagan retaliates. One of t...

Transcript of Address by Reagan on Libya

September 5, 1986

Gunmen Pan Am Flight 73

Gaddafi Attempts to Blow Up a Pan Am Airliner Over Tel Aviv, Israel

Gaddafi hired a group of Palestinian terrorists to carry out the plot. The j...

July 3, 1988

USS Vincennes blows up an Iranian plane

USS Vincennes Blows Up an Iranian Plane

While on patrol protecting Kuwaiti oil ships, the USS Vincennes launches two...

October 1, 1988

FAA Finds Weakness in Frankfurt Airport Security

FAA Finds Weakness in Frankfurt Airport Security

FAA inspects the security operations in the Frankfurt Airport and finds “ver...


October 29, 1988


Operation “Autumn Leaves” Uncovered

West German police break up a cell of the Popular Front for the Liberation o...

November 8, 1988


German Authorities Alert Airlines and Local Airport Security to the Bomb Threat

Authorities disseminate information detailing the Toshiba Bombeat bomb devic...

November 18, 1988


Airlines Warn of the Toshiba Bombeat Threat

The FAA warns American air carriers flying overseas of the potential threat ...

December 5, 1988


Helsinki Warning

The U.S. Embassy in Helsinki, Finland, receives an anonymous phone call warn...

December 7, 1988

Libyan Purchases Clothing in Malta Shop

A Libyan man named Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi purchases an umbrella and a child's jumpsuit in a shop called Mary’s House in Malta. The jumps...

FAA Issues Security Warning

After the Helsinki threat, the FAA issues a warning to all U.S. commercial carriers to step up security measures. Pan Am had already been alerted ...

December 13, 1988

U.S. Embassy Staff in Moscow Warned of Potential Attack on Pan Am Flight

William Kelly, the Moscow  U.S. embassy administrative counselor, drafts a memo addressed to “All Embassy Personnel” and posted on the staff notic...

Helsinki Warning

December 19, 1988

The UK Ministry of Transport Issues a Second Warning on the Toshiba Bombeat

The six-point advisory warned that the explosive device would be difficult to detect and listed the key bomb indicators to look for in X-rays. The...

Before the attack passengers arrive at Heathrow Airport.jpg

Before the Attack: Passengers Arrive at Heathrow Airport

Hours before take-off 243 passengers arrive at Heathrow Airport. Many are tr...


Before the Attack: Aircraft Arrives at Heathrow Airport

The Boeing 747 known as The Clipper Maid of the Seas arrives at Hea...


Before the Attack: Bomb Planted in Unscreened Luggage Checked onto Flight

Luggage is transferred onto the flight without being screened, including a s...


Before the Attack: Flight Departs on Time

6:27 pm GMT: The Clipper Maid of the Sea pushes off from the termin...


Before the Attack: Last Contact with Pan Am 103

6:58 pm GMT: PA103 establishes two-way radio contact with Shanwick Oceanic A...


The Attack: Pan Am 103 Explodes Over Lockerbie, Scotland

7:02:44 pm GMT: Clipper Maid of the Seas fails to acknowledge ocean...


Immediate Response: The Hours After the Attack

Dumfries and Galloway Constabulary take charge of the initial response. Loca...

December 22, 1988


Inspector John Boyd Convenes First Meeting of Investigators

2:00 am GMT: Boyd convenes first meeting of investigators. He stresses the n...

Search Effort Organized

Search Effort Organized

Thousands flock to Lockerbie to search for survivors and locate victims of t...

December 22, 1988

CIA Analyzes Claims of Responsibility for the Attack

Several groups claimed responsibility for the bombing of Pan Am 103. One caller claimed the "Guardians of the Islamic Revolution had destroyed the...

CIA Analysis of Claims

December 23, 1988


First Group of American Family Members Arrive in Lockerbie

First group of American family members arrive in Lockerbie to identify their...


President Reagan Publicly Acknowledges the Attack

After days of silence, President Reagan publicly acknowledges the attack.


Evidence Gathering Effort is Organized

An 845-square-mile area around Lockerbie is divided into eleven sections lab...

December 24, 1988


Lockerbie Community Comes Together

Volunteers from Lockerbie set up and staffed canteens, which stayed open 24 ...

December 25, 1988


Christmas Day: Recovery Continues

Investigators, military responders, and volunteer recovery workers continue ...

December 27, 1988


Families Kept in the Dark

Families are given minimal information about progress in the recovery and in...

December 28, 1988


Bomb Confirmed: Counterterrorism Investigation Begins

The Department of Transport's Air Accidents Investigation Branch announces t...


January 1, 1989


Memorial Service Held in Lockerbie

Over 700 mourners, including 200 American family members, gather for a servi...

January 18, 1989

Syracuse University Holds First Memorial Service for the 35 Students Killed in the Attack.

More than 15,000 people attend. The Syracuse University Pan Am 103 Memorial Services has become an annual event.

Victims Families Form Support Group

While attending the first Syracuse University memorial service, victims' families form the support group Victims of Pan Am Flight 103 to learn the...

January 29, 1989


Memorial Service at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City

 Over 600 mourners attend.

January 31, 1989


Symbolic Service Held in Lockerbie

Symbolic service held in Lockerbie for the 17 victims who were not recovered...

February 1, 1989

Key Evidence Uncovered

In early February 1989, Lockerbie searchers discover three small pieces of a radio cassette recorder identical to the Toshiba Bombeat. Soon after ...

February 6, 1989


Family Members Hold Press Conference in New York

Over 65 attend and speak out against the bombing and express frustration ove...

February 19, 1989

First Official Meeting of the Victims of Pan Am Flight 103, Inc.

VPAF103 meet in New Jersey after an informal meeting earlier that month. Between 50-60 families attended after realizing they would need to organi...

March 14, 1989


First Congressional Hearing on the Bombing of Pan Am 103

Members of the VPAF103 testify before the Senate Transportation Appropriatio...

April 3, 1989


Family Members Hold Memorial and Demonstration in Washington, DC

Afterwards, the memorial and demonstration, several meet with President Geor...

April 8, 1989


Lockerbie Air Disaster Friendship Group Established

Lockerbie resident Stuart Murray establishes Lockerbie Air Disaster Friendsh...

July 31, 1989

New Key Evidence Uncovered

In late July of 1989, searchers in Lockerbie locate a swath of fabric from a baby jumper with a manufacturer's label that is traced to Malta. Fore...

August 1, 1989

Investigators Establish Malta Connection

In August of 1989, investigators travel to Malta and confirm that the jumpsuit was manufactured there. They determine that it was likely purchased...

August 21, 1989


Families Demonstrate in Front of the Pan Am Building in New York

Families meet as a part of a monthly protest that they hold the 21st of ever...

September 19, 1989

Bomb Explodes on Union de Transports Aériens (UTA) Flight 772

The International French airline passenger flight operating from Brazzaville in the People's Republic of the Congo to Charles de Gaulle Airport in...

December 21, 1989


First Anniversary of the Pan Am 103 Bombing

Two memorial events are held in Lockerbie, Scotland. Local clergy dedicate a...


memorial Cairn

A year after the attack, the families' quest for justice and accountability was just beginning. The questions of who did this? and how could this happen? remained unanswered for years. Many in the government were content to move on without bringing those responsible to justice. Nor did they implement needed changes to a weak aviation security system to assure more Americans would not be murdered.

On Sept. 11, 2001, a group of 19 terrorists walked onto American aircraft–mostly unchecked–overtook the planes, and used them as w...

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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.

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Nose Cone Pan Am Flight 103

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