LONDON -- A Pan American World Airways jumbo jet carrying 258 passengers and crew from London to New York crashed in a huge fireball at a village just north of the Scottish border Wednesday evening, killing everyone on board and injuring at least a dozen on the ground, some of them critically.
Some residents of the village were still reported missing early today in Britain's worst air crash ever, and one of the worst in commercial aviation history.
American Ambassador Charles Price, interviewed at the scene, said 70% of the passengers were Americans. A passenger list was expected to be released later today.
Eyewitness Mike Carnahan described a "terrible explosion" as Flight 103 slammed into a gasoline station and several houses near the center of the village of Lockerbie, about 10 miles northeast of Dumfries.
"The whole sky lit up and it was actually raining liquid fire," Carnahan told British Broadcasting Corp. television. He said he was close enough to the crash that he later found a melted aluminum rivet from the doomed Boeing 747 embedded in his car.
'Just Beyond Description'
"I don't think there is any chance of survivors. The way it exploded was just beyond description," he said.
Pan Am officials later confirmed that there had been no survivors on the aircraft.
Dumfries Police Constable John Boyd said wreckage was scattered over an area 15 miles wide, and bodies were found in at least six different locations around Lockerbie.
The cause of the disaster was not immediately clear, although speculation centered on either structural failure or sabotage. The jet was built in 1970, the 15th 747 to be completed.
Several witnesses reported that the white and blue plane, named Maid of the Sea, was already on fire as it plummeted toward the earth. Some said they saw two fireballs in the sky, suggesting either an explosion or possibly a midair collision with a second aircraft.
However, the British Civil Aviation Authority ruled out the possibility of another plane being involved. No other aircraft was reported missing.
Minutes before the crash, the flight had been reported as proceeding normally at an altitude of 31,000 feet despite the presence of strong winds in the area. Pan Am officials said there had been no "Mayday" alert from the pilot.
"Bomb Fear in UK's Worst Air Disaster" was the headline on the London Times report of the tragedy today.
The flight originated in Frankfurt, West Germany, and a number of those on board apparently were American servicemen, headed home for Christmas.
Among others known to have been on the plane was Bernt Carlsson, the U.N. Commissioner for Namibia, and at least 36 students from a study program run by New York's Syracuse University. Carlsson, 50, was a Swede closely involved in efforts to negotiate independence for the South African-ruled territory.
In today's editions, the Washington Post quoted a State Department spokesman as saying six members of the department's Diplomatic Security Service, who were returning from Beirut, were aboard the jet. A State Department spokesman said he could not confirm the report.
In Detroit, Volkswagen of America said Wednesday night that VW's second-ranking U.S. official, James Fuller, and VW executive Lou Marengo were on board Flight 103. The automaker, a unit of Volkswagen AG, said that Fuller, vice president in charge of the U.S. Volkswagen unit, and Marengo, director of U.S. marketing, had boarded the flight in Frankfurt.
Also on board the Pan Am flight was John Mulroy, 59, director of international communications for the Associated Press; Mulroy's son, Sean, and daughter-in-law, Ingrid.
Reuters news agency quoted a South African Embassy spokesman in London as saying that Pretoria's foreign minister, Roelof (Pik) Botha, had originally been scheduled to take Flight 103 but decided two or three days ago to take an earlier plane.
Flight 103 took off from London's Heathrow Airport at about 6:25 p.m., about 25 minutes behind schedule and less than an hour before it crashed.
Some Trapped in Vehicles
The crash left a 30-yard-wide crater at the edge of the main road through the village, which has a population of about 2,500. Several cars were set afire by flaming wreckage, and firefighters said some people were trapped in their vehicles. Other pieces of the jumbo jet were scattered in the streets and yards of as many as 40 homes destroyed by the crash.
There were no firm reports of any dead on the ground as of early today, but authorities said they did not expect to know for sure the extent of casualties in the village until later today.
A pall of smoke, tinted orange by still unchecked flames, choked much of the village more than an hour after the crash. Flashing blue lights from dozens of emergency vehicles punctuated the scene, described by a television reporter in Lockerbie as one of "utter devastation."
David Thomas, another eyewitness, said he saw a fireball shoot 300 feet in the air as he approached the village in darkness, not long after 7 p.m. Rounding a bend in the road, he said he saw the highway "covered with cars on fire and debris all over. . . . There was houses on fire everywhere."
The Royal Air Force Rescue Coordination Center near Edinburgh dispatched 15 helicopters with burn specialists to the scene, but by two hours after the accident only a dozen casualties had arrived at Dumfries and Galloway Hospital. All had suffered severe burns, and all were believed to be residents.
Eyewitness John Glasgow told Britain's Independent Radio News that the aircraft hit a road, carried on for about 1,500 yards and then exploded.
"We tried to get near the plane but it was completely on fire," Glasgow said. "There were no bodies about. I don't think there would be any chance of anyone getting out of it."
Graham Byerley, who was in a hotel near the crash site, told the BBC: "We initially heard a rumbling over the hotel. We thought the roof was falling in. And then we heard a tremendous shudder on the ground, as though it were an earthquake. And then we saw sparks, and this enormous flame going 200 or 300 feet into the air. There was debris flying everywhere."
Pan Am officials at the airline's headquarters in New York said they had not received a complete list of the 243 passengers on board. They declined to name the 15 crew members who also perished until relatives had been notified.
Jasmine Sadiqi, a passenger who had boarded the plane in Frankfurt and disembarked in London, said there were a number of American servicemen and their families aboard the plane as it resumed its journey to New York. Many were loaded down with Christmas presents.
The crash attracted scores of curious area residents, and traffic jams quickly developed, hampering emergency services. Police finally cordoned off a quarter-mile area around the crash site.
John Wakeham, leader of the House of Commons, interrupted proceedings at Westminster to solemnly announce the disaster. Transportation Secretary Paul Channon was scheduled to deliver a government statement on the tragedy in Parliament today.
The government's secretary of state for Scotland, Malcolm Rifkind, called the crash "an appalling disaster" after touring the scene early today. U.S. Ambassador Price also visited the crash site.
The crash ranks as the ninth worst commercial aviation disaster ever. The worst was the March 27, 1977, collision of two Boeing 747s at the Tenerife airport on Spain's Canary Islands, which killed 582 people.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times