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Friends, Relatives Mourn Pan Am Flight 103 Bombing One Year Ago

December 21, 1989 GMT

LOCKERBIE, Scotland (AP) _ Friends and relatives of the 270 people killed on Pan Am Flight 103 gathered in this small Scottish town Wednesday, the eve of the first anniversary of the bombing, to join residents in mourning.

One year ago Thursday, the New York-bound Boeing 747 exploded over Lockerbie, killing all 259 passengers and crew members. Fiery, molten wreckage fell 31,000 feet, killing another 11 people on the ground.

Dec. 21, 1988 - the shortest day of the year - became the longest for the suddenly bereaved, for the town of 3,500 people jolted into disaster, and for the rescuers who would give up their Christmas to search for bodies, wreckage and clues.

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Residents of Lockerbie hope that once Thursday’s anniversary passes, they can get on with their lives and return to quiet obscurity.

A group of American relatives in Lockerbie for the anniversary presented a memorial plaque to Councilman Hugh Young at the town hall Wednesday night.

″There were times when we lost our faith in fellow man,″ said Joe Horgan of Philadelphia, a board member of The Victims of Pan Am Flight 103, a relatives’ support group.

″But you only have to come here to have it restored. This town was devastated itself. These people reached out in the midst of our own devastation and guided us,″ said Horgan, whose brother-in-law was on the flight.

Another plaque made of three slabs of gray Finnish granite inscribed with all 270 victims’ named will be dedicated Thursday at a new Garden of Remembrance in Dryfesdale Cemetery outside Lockerbie.

On Thursday night, about the time the world learned of the disaster last year, an ecumenical service will be held outside the Lockerbie Town Hall that a year ago became a makeshift morgue.

Organizers have kept both remembrance services simple, and no formal invitations have been issued.

U.S. Ambassador Henry Catto and his wife, Jessica, will attend the plaque dedication, the U.S. Embassy said.

Pan Am said only about two dozen relatives accepted its offer to fly them to the services. The airline is not sending an official representative to Lockerbie, but some employees were expected to attend in a private capacity, said a Pan Am spokesman in New York.

″The majority of families, and particularly the leadership of the families of 103, plan to remain in the United States,″ he said, referring to The Victims of Pan Am Flight 103.

Bert Ammerman, whose brother, Thomas, died on the flight and who heads the group, said some relatives planned to attend a public memorial service in Washington on Thursday, while others would go into seclusion.

″Most people wish it would go Dec. 20th to the 22nd and forget the 21st because the 21st ... is, for I don’t know how long, for some people going to bring back just an awful, awful remembrance of that particular day,″ he said in a British television documentary, ″The Road to Damascus,″ shown Wednesday.

The U.S. consulate in Edinburgh said some relatives of victims decided against coming after the State Department warned last week of possible activity by Middle East terrorists during the holiday season.

Police heading the international manhunt for the Flight 103 bombers have confirmed that one focus of their investigation is the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, Ahmed Jibril’s radical Syrian-based faction.

Jibril has denied involvement, but acknowledged his group has used devices similar to the plastic explosives concealed in a radio-cassette player that blew the jumbo jet apart.

Chief Constable George Esson of the Dumfries and Galloway Constabulary says the bomb suitcase was either checked in at Frankfurt Airport, where the flight originated, or passed through Frankfurt from a feeder flight. West German authorities say there’s not enough evidence to pinpoint where the bomb originated.

The only scar remaining in Lockerbie, 15 miles north of the English border, is a muddy vacant lot on Sherwood Crescent. The main part of the plane’s fuselage, with enough fuel for the trans-Atlantic journey, exploded on the crescent, destroying 26 homes.

The 30-foot-deep crater has been filled in, and 10 homes are to be built on the site. A mile away in Park Place and Rosebank, where more than 60 bodies fell from the plane, one house has been rebuilt and 70 renovated.

Maxwell Kerr, chairman of Rosebank Residents’ Association, spoke of ″a tension in the town″ as the anniversary approached.

″There’s the feeling that there was last year. It is all brought back by the media,″ he said.

Several residents recently attended a course on how to deal with the media influx.

″The coverage we are getting with the anniversary looming doesn’t really help. It builds up pressure,″ said Robert Riddet, one of them who attended the course. ″It brings back memories. Everyone in Lockerbie on the night was affected in some way. But we are fighting back. The scars are healing both in the people and the town.″