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What If Pan Am 103 Never Left The Ground?  
User currently offlineFalstaff From United States of America, joined Jun 2006, 6088 posts, RR: 29
Posted (6 years 11 months 1 week 3 days 15 hours ago) and read 9342 times:
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I was reading a book about disasters yesterday and there was a section about the Pan Am 103 bombing. The book mentioned that the bombers intended for it to blow up over the North Atlantic, but because of a 1/2 hour delay at LHR it blew up over land instead. Lets just say the plane was delayed for a longer period of time and the bomb blew up before the plane left the ground. How big of an explosion would there have been? Would there have been a similar loss of life assuming the aircraft was loaded?


My mug slaketh over on Falstaff N503
23 replies: All unread, jump to last
 
User currently offlineKL911 From Czech Republic, joined Jul 2003, 5128 posts, RR: 12
Reply 1, posted (6 years 11 months 1 week 3 days 15 hours ago) and read 9319 times:

I would guess that all on board would be lost on the ground as well since all fueltanks would be full. As sad as may be..
Maybe even more casualties since we can assume there could be other fully loaded planes parked around PA 103

KL911


User currently offlineFalstaff From United States of America, joined Jun 2006, 6088 posts, RR: 29
Reply 2, posted (6 years 11 months 1 week 3 days 15 hours ago) and read 9281 times:
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Quoting KL911 (Reply 1):
Maybe even more casualties since we can assume there could be other fully loaded planes parked around PA 103

I was thinking that might be the case. I was just curious because the book talked about cargo coming out of the hold and doing more damage to the plane in the air. Another thought I had was a bomb like that TWA 707 bomb in 1969 where it just blew a hole in it and that was it. That plane was later repaired and flew until 1983. If that would have happened in the air it would have been sure disaster.



My mug slaketh over on Falstaff N503
User currently offlineDtwclipper From , joined Dec 1969, posts, RR:
Reply 3, posted (6 years 11 months 1 week 3 days 15 hours ago) and read 9251 times:

Quoting KL911 (Reply 1):
I would guess that all on board would be lost on the ground as well since all fueltanks would be full. As sad as may be..

I suspect that yes there would have been a great loss of life, but remember that the bomb itself was small and the damage came from the shock wave and explosive decompession that followed.


User currently offlineEXAAUADL From , joined Dec 1969, posts, RR:
Reply 4, posted (6 years 11 months 1 week 3 days 14 hours ago) and read 9142 times:

There would have been an explosion killing some people in F and J class and perhaps on the ground...but that is about it...the bomb used was about 1lb of symtex. It relied on altitude and decompression to do most of the damage.

User currently offlineEXAAUADL From , joined Dec 1969, posts, RR:
Reply 5, posted (6 years 11 months 1 week 3 days 14 hours ago) and read 9139 times:

I belive the bombing was in retaliation for the dhooting down of IR 655 A300 on 7/4/1988

User currently offlineLongHauler From Canada, joined Mar 2004, 4927 posts, RR: 43
Reply 6, posted (6 years 11 months 1 week 3 days 14 hours ago) and read 9082 times:

It is like the bombing of the CP B747 in Tokyo.

Sadly, baggage handlers were lost, as the bomb exploded after arrival in Tokyo. The aircraft arrived almost an hour early. Had it arrived on time the whole aircraft and its passengers, likely would have been lost over the Pacific.



Never gonna grow up, never gonna slow down .... Barefoot Blue Jean Night
User currently offlineAirbazar From United States of America, joined Sep 2003, 8287 posts, RR: 10
Reply 7, posted (6 years 11 months 1 week 3 days 14 hours ago) and read 9051 times:

Quoting EXAAUADL (Reply 4):
There would have been an explosion killing some people in F and J class and perhaps on the ground...but that is about it...the bomb used was about 1lb of symtex. It relied on altitude and decompression to do most of the damage.

Yup. There may have been some loss of life and with a little luck none whatsoever. Remember, fuel is not explosive, but flamable instead. That is why preventing these things it's so difficult, because once the aircraft is airborn, you don't need that big of an explosive device to cause great damange.


User currently offlineBuyantUkhaa From Mongolia, joined May 2004, 2890 posts, RR: 3
Reply 8, posted (6 years 11 months 1 week 3 days 14 hours ago) and read 9020 times:

This one came to mind:

http://aviation-safety.net/database/record.php?id=19860402-1

TWA 727 over Mediterranean. 4 Pax sucked out, plane landed safely.


However, this one wasn't so lucky:

http://aviation-safety.net/database/record.php?id=19740908-0

And see all of them at:

http://aviation-safety.net/database/dblist.php?Event=SEB



I scratch my head, therefore I am.
User currently offlineJfk777 From United States of America, joined Aug 2006, 8326 posts, RR: 7
Reply 9, posted (6 years 11 months 1 week 3 days 14 hours ago) and read 9011 times:
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PA would have died later because of the 1990 Gulf War and continued loses at the airline. I some times wonder if PA should have sold its self in pieces at the time of the Unted Asia route deal. This would have allowed it greater leverage to make whom ever purchased LHR, Europe, and South America to take employees with their old routes.

User currently offlineFalstaff From United States of America, joined Jun 2006, 6088 posts, RR: 29
Reply 10, posted (6 years 11 months 1 week 3 days 13 hours ago) and read 8969 times:
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Quoting BuyantUkhaa (Reply 8):
TWA 727 over Mediterranean. 4 Pax sucked out, plane landed safely.

I remember that. TWA had a fair amount of terrorist incidenst over the years. I guess that had a lot to do with it being such an international airline.

Did PA have other terrorist incidents besides #103?



My mug slaketh over on Falstaff N503
User currently offlineElmoTheHobo From United States of America, joined Aug 2006, 1537 posts, RR: 1
Reply 11, posted (6 years 11 months 1 week 3 days 13 hours ago) and read 8912 times:

Quoting EXAAUADL (Reply 5):
I belive the bombing was in retaliation for the dhooting down of IR 655 A300 on 7/4/1988

It was retalition for NATO (US/UK) bombings of Ghadafi's compound in Tripoli. Those bombings were in retaliation for Libyan Agression, including the bombing of a nightclub in Berlin that was frequented in Berlin and their supposed support for terrorists across the world.

Libyan agents also bombed a UTA flight over North Africa.


User currently offlineEXAAUADL From , joined Dec 1969, posts, RR:
Reply 12, posted (6 years 11 months 1 week 3 days 12 hours ago) and read 8808 times:

Quoting ElmoTheHobo (Reply 11):
It was retalition for NATO (US/UK) bombings of Ghadafi's compound in Tripoli. Those bombings were in retaliation for Libyan Agression, including the bombing of a nightclub in Berlin that was frequented in Berlin and their supposed support for terrorists across the world.

Libyan agents also bombed a UTA flight over North Africa.

That's the story post 1990..until the first gulf war, when the US needed Syria as an ally and neutralize Iran, Iran was considered the culprit. With the actual bombing carried out by PFLP GC. Syria was likely in the know but not directly involved, as PFLP GC was HDQ in Damascus. In Oct 1988, PFLP was raided in Hamburg. It is possible the mission was further outsourced to Lybia. I dont discount Lybian involvement, but it was primarily an Iranian plot.

The UTA flight in 1989, was definitely Lybia.


User currently offlineIADCA From United States of America, joined Feb 2007, 1266 posts, RR: 8
Reply 13, posted (6 years 11 months 1 week 3 days 12 hours ago) and read 8716 times:

Quoting EXAAUADL (Reply 12):
That's the story post 1990..until the first gulf war, when the US needed Syria as an ally and neutralize Iran, Iran was considered the culprit. With the actual bombing carried out by PFLP GC. Syria was likely in the know but not directly involved, as PFLP GC was HDQ in Damascus. In Oct 1988, PFLP was raided in Hamburg. It is possible the mission was further outsourced to Lybia. I dont discount Lybian involvement, but it was primarily an Iranian plot.

The UTA flight in 1989, was definitely Lybia.

Um, that paragraph provides no support to Iranian backing of anything. You've implicated Libya directly several times in there, plus Syria, and then just sorta vaguely accused Iran of "plotting." I'm not saying you're not right, but that paragraph says...nothing about Iran.

I think the evidence of some Iranian involvement is indeed pretty good (the same brand of cassette players used to trigger bombs made by PFLP agents was used in PA103), but to say that it was direct retaliation for the Vincennes is a bit too strong. The PFLP had been making noises about blowing up airliners well before the Vincennes incident as part of a general aggression towards Americans and Israelis, but if they wanted to retaliate, wouldn't they do their own plot to make sure it gets carried through, rather than making a bomb and handing it over to some Libyans, hoping it would work? Also, I'm a bit suspicious of the short timescale between the Vincennes (7/3) and the PA 103 (December). That doesn't seem to be enough time to plan out a whole attack, at least given the general way terrorist organizations seem to run.

The fact that Libyan agents actually carried out the bombing seems rather compelling relative to vague Iranian involvement in PFLP. They had more time to plan, better access, and an equally good motive. Furthermore, there's abundant evidence of them carrying out similar plans in other circumstances.


User currently offlineKlima From United States of America, joined Dec 2006, 212 posts, RR: 0
Reply 14, posted (6 years 11 months 1 week 3 days 11 hours ago) and read 8594 times:

The hole the bomb created in the side of the plane was about the size of a basketball or dinner plate (I've read this from numerous articles, books on the subject.) What doomed the flight were the shockwaves the bomb created in the belly of plane. The plane didn't really "explode" at 31,000 feet, but rather disintegregated in mid-air.

User currently offlineRichierich From United States of America, joined Nov 2000, 4247 posts, RR: 6
Reply 15, posted (6 years 11 months 1 week 3 days 10 hours ago) and read 8564 times:

Quoting KL911 (Reply 1):
I would guess that all on board would be lost on the ground as well since all fueltanks would be full. As sad as may be..
Maybe even more casualties since we can assume there could be other fully loaded planes parked around PA 103

I don't agree.
As described in other posts, I think the bomb itself was quite small and it fit inside a small cassette player. My guess - had the plane been at the gate - is that it would have been quite a pop and there would have been immediate smoke and fire, but most passengers would have gotten out alive. It would have taken several minutes for the 747 to have become fully engulfed but perhaps more than enough time for everybody to escape. I'm sure the plane would have been destroyed, and the aircraft and/or surrounding terminal buildings too, but I think the outcome would have been a lot more favorable than the tragic loss of 265 lives at Lockerbie.

Quoting Airbazar (Reply 7):
Yup. There may have been some loss of life and with a little luck none whatsoever. Remember, fuel is not explosive, but flamable instead. That is why preventing these things it's so difficult, because once the aircraft is airborn, you don't need that big of an explosive device to cause great damange.

While you are correct about the characteristics of jet fuel, I should point out that it was not fire that caused PA103 to come down. The force of the explosion was enough to penetrate the aircraft's hull, causing catastrophic depressurization and thus a in-flight breakup. The fire only started after the fuel tanks became exposed, which may not have been the direct result of the bomb. Of course, by that moment, the fate of all onboard had already been sealed.



None shall pass!!!!
User currently offlineViscount724 From Switzerland, joined Oct 2006, 25125 posts, RR: 22
Reply 16, posted (6 years 11 months 1 week 3 days 4 hours ago) and read 8301 times:

Quoting LongHauler (Reply 6):
It is like the bombing of the CP B747 in Tokyo.

Sadly, baggage handlers were lost, as the bomb exploded after arrival in Tokyo. The aircraft arrived almost an hour early. Had it arrived on time the whole aircraft and its passengers, likely would have been lost over the Pacific.

That bomb was actually intended for a connecting Air India flight from NRT, in order to bring down 2 AI flights at almost the same time. Unfortunately the bomb on the AI 747 from YYZ (via Montreal Mirabel) to LHR did explode as intended killing all 329 aboard. That bomb was also carried in baggage on a connecting YVR-YYZ CP flight. CP was very lucky that day.


User currently offlineEXAAUADL From , joined Dec 1969, posts, RR:
Reply 17, posted (6 years 11 months 1 week 3 days 3 hours ago) and read 8247 times:

Quoting IADCA (Reply 13):
The PFLP had been making noises about blowing up airliners well before the Vincennes incident as part of a general aggression towards Americans and Israelis, but if they wanted to retaliate, wouldn't they do their own plot to make sure it gets carried through, rather than making a bomb and handing it over to some Libyans, hoping it would work?

1. I think the Hamburg raid in Oct 1988, put some pressure on PFLP
2. Iran didnt want it traced back to them, Iran also promised some vague retaliation after the Iran Air was shot down

The person suspected of carrying the bomb on board flew out of Beiruit, not Malta. I will not mention his name for fear of not being 100% correct.

I agree that there isnt much direct evidence tying Iran


User currently offlineHikesWithEyes From United States of America, joined Jan 2004, 816 posts, RR: 7
Reply 18, posted (6 years 11 months 1 week 3 days 2 hours ago) and read 8194 times:

I think the bomb was triggered by an altimeter-based device.
I have read that the device was actually loaded in a suitcase on the FRA-LHR flight in the 727.
It was then transferred to the 747. The set up was that once the altimeter had gone below and above
a certain altitude twice, it was set to go off.
I know that this is not the best explanation, but I think it is fairly accurate.
At any rate, I don't think it was a time issue.
Of course the fact that it happened when the aircraft was pressurized resulted in the disaster that
was PA103.



First, benzene in my Perrier, and now this!
User currently offlineLTBEWR From United States of America, joined Jan 2004, 13073 posts, RR: 12
Reply 19, posted (6 years 11 months 1 week 3 days 2 hours ago) and read 8181 times:

I recall taking a flight JFK-BRU-JFK on AA around October 1988, and for the first time being asked at both airports prior to check in to show my passport, my ticket and answer questions about my luggage. I remember wondering and commenting on the 'hassle' of this procedure. Of course, when PA 103 went down, I understood better the reasons for that 'hassle'. I believe there were general threats by terrorists since earlier in the year to place a bomb on an aircraft in checked or carry on luggage. Unfortunately for PA 103 they didn't do enough checks on the luggage as had been transferred without a pax via FRA to LHR with the bomb in the transferred bag to go off about an hour after leaving the scheduled departure time from LHR. Had there been a further delay and the bomb go off at LHR, then it probably would have killed only a small number of people, the a/c would have been a total loss. I would say that PA was in such financial trouble by the time of the terror of PA 103, that it was just a matter of another recession or attack that it would have failed -and it did later, the Gulf war may have doomed them too.
PA was in deep trouble by PA 103 incluidng other terror attacks, flying in risky areas like Pakistan and competition. Don't forget that they didn't have the level of domestic USA feeder routes to their gateways that other airlines like DL, UA, AA had and were also operating growing numbers of flights flights to Europe, Asia and South America by then, taking away business from PA. You also had a growing number of new airlines like VS and others also affecting PA, especially as to pricing. I would also note that PA 103 did push many people from taking them as it was seen as such a symbol of the USA and thus a huge target of terrorists that people wanted to avoid that risk. To keep pax numbers up due to years of terror and other problems, PA had to offer cheaper fares, one of the reasons that so many students may have been on that flight.


User currently offlineIrishpower From United States of America, joined Aug 2003, 386 posts, RR: 0
Reply 20, posted (6 years 11 months 1 week 2 days 22 hours ago) and read 6757 times:

Quoting HikesWithEyes (Reply 18):
I think the bomb was triggered by an altimeter-based device

I remember the same thing. I don't think the bomb would have gone off if it had stayed on the ground at LHR.


User currently offlineHA_DC9 From United States of America, joined Jul 1999, 653 posts, RR: 1
Reply 21, posted (6 years 11 months 1 week 2 days 22 hours ago) and read 6681 times:

Although Wikipedia is questionable sometimes, there is a good 3 image graphic outlining the explosion found in the main PA 103 article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pan_Am_103
The hole from the explosion was only about 20 inches in size which started the shockwave and everything else in a matter of seconds.


User currently offlineCBPhoto From United States of America, joined Dec 2003, 1552 posts, RR: 5
Reply 22, posted (6 years 11 months 1 week 2 days 22 hours ago) and read 6656 times:

Well this brings up a very good question, although I believe the correct answer is that it wouldn't have gone off. It poses another question about another bombing over the Atlantic. Air India 182, which was delayed in Montreal, blew up near the coast of Ireland, and it was significantly delayed at that. If it had not been delayed, the bomb (as it was intended) would have gone off over the city of London, and then I wonder what the death toll and consequences would have been. But all in all a good question!!!


ETOPS: Engines Turning or Passengers Swimming
User currently offlineL1011Lover From Germany, joined Oct 2003, 989 posts, RR: 14
Reply 23, posted (6 years 11 months 1 week 2 days 18 hours ago) and read 5538 times:

Quoting Falstaff (Reply 10):
Did PA have other terrorist incidents besides #103?

Pan Am the prime US flag carrier had its share of terrorist attacks over the years. The only other airline that suffered as many attacks was TWA, another high-profile international American airline. To many and especially to terrorists abroad Pan Am and TWA were not only a symbol of America, they WERE the United States of America and therefore were their prime targets and that started a long time ago.

Long before Lockerbie, there was the terrorist attack in Rome on the open runway, a grenade fired into the first class section. There was a terrible incident after take-off from San Francisco, where a Japanese boy was killed by an explosive device under his seat. In 1970 a fully loaded Boeing 747 was hijacked and then blown up on the ground after passengers and crew were given exactly 90 seconds to evacuate the plane. There were bomb threats all the time. And finally on September 5th, 1986 Pan Am flight 73 a Boeing 747 aircraft flying Pan Am´s daily BOM-KHI-FRA-JFK service was hijacked on the ground during the stopover in Karachi. More than 20 people died in the terrible event including many Indian and Pakistani passengers and the flights purser 23 year old Ashoka Chakra awarded Neerja Bhanot.

Quoting Falstaff (Thread starter):
Lets just say the plane was delayed for a longer period of time and the bomb blew up before the plane left the ground. How big of an explosion would there have been? Would there have been a similar loss of life assuming the aircraft was loaded?

Okay now back to the topic and question itself.

If the bomb would have gone off before Pan Am 103 left the ground the outcome would have been much less dramatic. There would have been a few casualties, if any at all. Maybe some passengers seated in the first class section and maybe ground personnel, baggage handlers, ramp agents... maybe some people would have been severely injured but not killed. I highly doubt there would have been a fire. The bomb wasn´t even close to one of the fuel tanks.

The bomb itself and the force of the explosion it created was rather small. It consisted of an estimated twelve ounces of a Czech-made plastic explosive known as Semtex, hidden inside a brown Samsonite suitcase. An electronic timer was set an counting up the seconds. As the timer closed a circuit that triggered a detonator embedded in the explosive the Semtex instantaneously transformed into a ball of superheated gas.

The suitcase had been loaded near the side wall of a baggage container, and the container was at the end of the row, so that when the bomb went off it was only twenty-five inches from the skin of the airplane.

So what really destroyed Pan Am 103 was the combination of several things. Location of the bomb, force of explosion, damage it created to the aircraft and its systems, the conditions the aircraft was flying in and under at the point the bomb exploded. If the aircraft would have been parked at the gate the moment the bomb went off there would have been a loud bang probably unnoticed by anyone not within a certain distance from the parked aircraft. I doubt people inside the terminal would have heard or instantly noticed it.

Remember that the force of the explosion went to the side and the blast tore a hole only the size of a basketball in the fuselage. But on the other side of the hull was the thin air of 31,000 feet, the aircraft weighed 700,000 pounds and was travelling at a speed of approximately 500 miles per hour. The aircraft literally disintegrated in mid air due to the shock waves created by the explosion and running down the fuselage, combined with the sudden change in pressure and the 500-mile-an-hour wind of its momentum. There was never a fire in the air. The aircraft's fuel tanks exploded on impact.

The usual explanation, why Pan Am 103 blew-up over Lockerbie instead of the Atlantic Ocean which surely was the terrorist´s intention, is that the plane, scheduled to depart at 6 pm, was not airborne until 6:25. But a Pan Am pilot described that as a typical taxi delay. Pan Am 103 was essentially on time that night. His own theory is that in setting the timer in Malta and put aboard a flight to Frankfurt, Germany, where it connected to Pan Am 103 from FRA to LHR and on to JFK the bombers forgot that local time was an hour earlier in London. That assumes, as nearly everyone does, that the bombers didn't want the wreckage to be found.

Best regards

L1011Lover

[Edited 2007-09-19 12:34:58]

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