This Boeing 747 was felled by a terrorist bomb over the town of Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988. All passengers and crew on the jet, as well as 11 people on the ground, were killed.
Photograph by Air Accident Investigation Branch, © Crown copyright, 2010

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  • On December 21, 1988, a passenger jet exploded over the town of Lockerbie, Scotland. The catastrophe was the result of a terrorist bombing and resulted in the deaths of 270 people—all passengers and crew on the plane, as well as 11 on the ground. 
    The flight, Pan Am 103, kept a regularly scheduled daily route from Frankfurt, Germany, to Detroit, Michigan, making two stops along the way—one in London, England, and one in New York City, New York. Two warnings about the London-New York leg of the December 21 flight preceded the bombing. Airline and airport officials increased their security screenings of passengers and baggage, but failed to detect any unusual material.
    After years of intense investigation by Scottish and U.S. authorities, two Libyan men were accused of planting the bomb during the flight’s layover in London. The suspected motive was retaliation for the United States and the United Kingdom engaging the Libyan military in the Gulf of Sidra years earlier. Libya refused to extradite the accused men until 1999.
    The trial was held in the Netherlands. One defendant was found guilty of the bombing and sentenced to life in prison. However, in 2009, he was granted “compassionate release” due to terminal cancer, and was allowed to die at home in Libya.
  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    aircraft Noun

    vehicle able to travel and operate above the ground.

    airline Noun

    system or business that provides air transportation.

    airport Noun

    area with facilities for the landing, takeoff, shelter, supply, and repair of aircraft.

    cancer Noun

    growth of abnormal cells in the body.

    catastrophe Noun

    disaster or sudden, violent change.

    compassionate Adjective

    having to do with sympathy and a desire to help others.

    confrontation Noun

    open conflict.

    defendant Noun

    person or organization accused of a crime or other wrongdoing.

    detect Verb

    to notice.

    explode Verb

    to expand with great speed, force, and noise.

    extradite Verb

    to turn over an accused criminal to another state or nation at the state's request.

    guilty Adjective

    having committed a crime or other offense, or been convicted of doing so.

    intense Adjective

    extreme or strong.

    investigation Noun

    process involving examination and research into a topic or situation.

    jet Noun

    aircraft that moves by burning fuel.

    precede Verb

    to go before.

    prison Noun

    buildings that house convicted criminals and people accused of a crime and awaiting trial.

    retaliation Noun

    reprisal, or an act taken in response to an injury or offense.

    route Noun

    path or way.

    schedule Noun

    set of time tables or deadlines for appointments or completion of tasks.

    security Noun

    safety or stability.

    suspect Noun

    person accused of a crime.

    terminal Adjective

    fatal or ending in death.

    terrorist Adjective

    having to do with the use of non-military violence and/or threats of violence to achieve or advocate political change.

    town Noun

    human settlement larger than a village and smaller than a city.

    trial Noun

    judgement of a person or organization's responsibility for a crime or misdemeanor.