Britain sent Pan Am a warning to watch out for radio-cassette bombs two days before one blew up a Pan Am jumbo jet over Scotland, killing 270 people, but the mailed warning arrived a month late, the airline said today.
Pan Am spokesmen in London and New York said a letter sent by the British Department of Transport on Dec. 19 at the height of the pre-Christmas mail rush was not received until Jan. 17.
The Department of Transport said warnings were sent to all U.S. and British airlines and airport security services Dec. 19, two days before the explosion over Lockerbie, Scotland, to look out for bombs hidden in radio-cassette players and equipped with barometric fuses triggered by an aircraft’s altitude.
The British government acknowledged issuing the warning only after details were disclosed in today’s edition of the Daily Mirror newspaper.
The British transport minister has made no comment on why the warning was kept secret from the public. The issue is reviving bitter controversy over what air passengers should be told about safety alerts.
The crash on Dec. 21 of the Pan Am Boeing 747, which took off from London’s Heathrow Airport bound for New York, was Britain’s worst air disaster.
In Washington, the Federal Aviation Administration said today it had issued no warning similar to the British one. Spokesman Fred Farrar said the agency was attempting to find out if any U.S. airlines had been aware of the warning.
“We issued no such warning. We’re trying to find out who, if anyone (among U.S. airlines), got the warning, if indeed there was such a warning,” Farrar said.
A Labor member of Parliament, Alf Morris, said Manchester Airport in England also received the warning late--on Jan. 12.
He added: “It is almost unbelievable that in the age of the fax machine, a government department puts a life-or-death warning in the Christmas post.”