Clipper Maid of the Seas

Episode Summary

A seemingly routine flight from London on the way to New York would forever change many lives as it passed over a small town in Scotland.

This episode previously appeared as a Patreon episode.

Please Be Advised – This episode may contain content that some may find distressing. As always, we advise listener discretion. This episode it not suitable for anyone under the age of 13.

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A seemingly routine flight from London on the way to New York would forever change many lives as it passed over a small town in Scotland.

Dawn and Cole:

Hi Wee Ones!  I’m Cole and I’m Dawn, and this is Scottish Murders.


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On the 21st of December 1988, Jaswant Basuta checked in with his luggage onto his flight to New York from Heathrow Airport in London with plenty of time to spare as he assumed it would be busy due to the Christmas rush. He had just attended a family wedding in Belfast and was heading home, where his wife would be waiting to pick him up from the airport. At the airport he had already been joined by some relatives from nearby Southall to see him off and they decided to take him to the upstairs bar for a drink. Jaswant wasn’t a heavy drinker, especially as being Sikh alcohol consumption is discouraged, however an exception was when there was a cause for celebration such as having his relatives around. So, when Jaswant did drink he liked a Carlsberg’s Special Brew, so he had one, then another and another, not realising his departure time was rapidly approaching, but he eventually insisted that he must be off for his flight only then noticing on the departure screens that the gate for his flight was closing. He quickly made it through security, passport control and finally made it to the gate, where he found it empty of fellow passengers. He saw some ground crew and a duty manager who he pleaded with to let him on board, however they refused. He then saw through the window that the aircraft he was supposed to be on had pushed back from the gate and was making its way towards the runway, he was too late. He wasn’t the only one to miss the flight that night, The Four Tops were recording a performance to be broadcast at Christmas and the New Year, however the tight schedule had not gone as planned and they were delayed. John Lyndon, also known as Johnny Rotten, former front man of the Sex Pistols, despite what you might assume was a stickler for being on time and had got into an argument with his wife who he said had packed too slowly and there was no chance to make the flight. Kim Cattrall was working on a film and was due to return home that night but changed her plans and was in Harrods instead purchasing a Wedgewood teapot as she had neglected to buy a gift for her mother so had decided to return on a later flight instead. Jaswant was feeling awful, not just for missing his flight but from drinking in the bar earlier, so resigned himself to spending the night in the departure lounge. He spent a while trying to doze off until he saw a couple of police officers walking towards him, who then asked if he was the passenger who had missed the flight. He said that he was, and they escorted him to the Heathrow Airport police station. Heathrow Airport police had discovered that when Jaswant hadn’t made it to the gate in time the ground crew had been anxious not to delay the flight and in doing so had admitted that his suitcase had been left on board the aircraft, in breach of security regulations. Jaswant then discovered that an hour after he had arrived at the gate, the aircraft he was supposed to be on, Pan Am Flight 103, had exploded over Lockerbie in Scotland, killing all 259 passengers and crew on board, plus 11 people on the ground. Not only had his suitcase been left unaccompanied on the flight, three years earlier it had been known that Sikh terrorists had been suspected of blowing up a 747, and since Jaswant was Sikh and had just come from Belfast it would be fair to assume the police had found their suspect within just a couple of hours. However, when police questioned him further it quickly became clear he was innocent. The police also contacted his wife who was initially inconsolable as she had assumed her husband had perished along with other victims, but was understandably relieved when she discovered he was still alive. Jaswant, although relieved to have been saved, felt terrible for all the other people on his flight, and that he should have been another victim. He later said his experience made him humbler, more spiritual and felt it was his duty to do something good with his life and help others. A few months after the crash he was shown a photograph of his partially burnt and battered luggage and was asked if he wanted it back, but he felt no need to have it as he had his life and family and that was enough for him.


David Dornstein had been working in Israel on a project for Alternatives in Jewish Education and was returning home early to surprise his family on the 21st of December 1988. He boarded the flight for the last part of his journey home, joining fellow passengers on Pan Am Flight 103. Also on board with the passengers was their luggage and unaccompanied luggage from feeder flights that had been transferred onto the aircraft, including within a baggage container in the forward cargo bay a light brown suitcase containing a Toshiba radio cassette player and within this, unknown to all those on board, was 450 grams of Semtex plastic explosives connected to a timer. The flight with 243 passengers and 16 crew on board left the gates around 6pm and took off from London’s Heathrow Airport heading to New York at 6:25pm. David, along with his fellow passengers and crew, were flying at 31,000 feet over Scotland when around 7pm Air Traffic Control tried to make a routine contact with Pan Am Flight 103, however instead of receiving a response moments later Air Traffic Control observed multiple radar echoes instead of one. The Semtex plastic explosive contained in the light brown suitcase had exploded. Due to the huge difference in pressure between the inside and the outside of the aircraft, a 50 centimetre hole had been punched in the fuselage. Within seconds of this explosion, the nose separated from the rest of the aircraft, striking off one of the engines and the tail assembly. The rest of the fuselage continued onward until it reached 19,000 feet and began to dive vertically, when the forward fuselage began to disintegrate tearing off both horizontal stabilisers. The rear fuselage and remaining three engines also separated and, along with the winged box structure, crashed onto the small town of Lockerbie. creating a large crater starting fires from the 90,000 kilograms or 200,000 pounds of fuel, killing 11 people on the ground. Wreckage from the nose section of the aircraft, including the flight deck, was found mostly in one piece about 2.5 miles or 4 kilometres east of Lockerbie, on the side of which read part of the name of the aircraft ‘Clipper Maid of the Seas’.


The  Flannigan family of Tom Flannigan, his wife Kathleen and their three children, David, Steven and Joanne, were from Lockerbie, Scotland, which is a small town about 75 miles or 120 kilometres south of Glasgow in Dumfries and Galloway. David Flannigan no longer lived at the family home in Sherwood Crescent, Lockerbie, but had moved to Blackpool when he was 17 following an argument, but he was intending to spend Christmas with his family. With just a few days before Christmas it’s not hard to imagine the rest of the Flannigan family were in good spirits, despite David not being there, and maybe they also hoped that he would return for the festive period too, however, the night of the 21st of December 1988 would change everything for the Flannigan family. Steven Flannigan, who was 14, had taken a bicycle he was working on for his 10 year old sister Joanne as a Christmas present to be checked by his neighbour David Edwards in his garage, however, within minutes the wet and windy night turned into something far louder and stranger when they witnessed a fireball engulf the Flannigan family home, which had been obliterated by the wreckage of the main wingbox structure of an aircraft that had only minutes earlier been passing over the small town of Lockerbie on its way to New York, leaving a 10 metre or 30 foot crater. Tom, Kathleen and Joanne Flannigan, along with eight other residents, many of whom would also have been getting ready for Christmas, were also killed as wreckage from the aircraft crashed down onto their homes, adding to the deaths of the 259 passengers and crew who had been on board Pan Am Flight 103. David Flannigan understandably took the loss of his parents and younger sister hard in the years after that fateful night in 1988 and he tragically died of a heart attack having sadly drank himself to death in a hotel in Thailand in 1993. Unfortunately, this would not be the last tragedy to hit the Flannigan family when in 2000 Steven Flannigan died after being struck by a train in the early hours of the morning. Sadly, it’s not known whether he slipped and fell unconscious or perhaps was wracked by the nightmares of what he witnessed that terrible night in Lockerbie. On the 3rd of May 2000, almost 11 and a half years after Pan Am Flight 103 exploded over Lockerbie in Scotland, the trial began of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi and Lamin Khalifah Fhimah.  They had been indicted in 1991, but due to the lack of treaties between Libya and the United Kingdom or the United States, it was delayed until a compromise was reached to hold the trial at Camp Zeist in a special Scottish Court in the Netherlands. During the trial it was stated shortly after the disaster in 1988, an operation was launched to retrieve as much wreckage as possible, these items were taken to be examined and relevant parts were reconstructed, where, although most of the fractures were found to be consistent with the airborne breakup of an aircraft, there was an area on the port side of the lower fuselage in the forward cargo bay, which would be loaded with luggage containers, where these fractures were not typical and had been shattered. Around this area were signs of pitting and carbon deposits along with some panels that been bent and torn outwards in a starburst pattern. Also recovered were pieces of a luggage container which included pitting and carbon deposits, which were further analysed and showed traces of chemicals consistent with those used in the manufacture of Semtex plastic explosives, strongly indicating an explosion of a device within the baggage contained on board the aircraft. Further evidence collected including 56 fragments of a light brown suitcase which showed signs of explosive damage, including a small piece of circuit board and what seemed to be shattered pieces of a Toshiba radio cassette player, indicating that this had contained the explosive. It was known at the time in 1988 that West German police had recovered the same model of Toshiba radio cassette player which had been modified to contain an explosive device, but the same piece of circuit board was not part of the same model of radio cassette player. A light brown suitcase was also determined to have contained other items including branded clothing, pieces of which have been recovered including a label with ‘Made in Malta” written on it. In August 1989, police officers went to Malta to track down the origin of the clothing that had been contained in the light brown suitcase and visited Mary’s House, a shop which sold the same clothing brands, and spoke to the owner Tony Gauci who remembered a sale he had made two weeks before Christmas in 1988 to a Libyan man, which included many of the items the pieces of clothing had been determined to have come from. He recalled this sale in particular as he noted that the person didn’t seem that interested in the items he was purchasing, and stated during the trial that the man he had sold the clothes to was al-Megrahi. The small piece of circuit board was not tracked down until June 1990 when police officers were shown details of a timing device known as an MST-13 timer where part of its circuit board was identical to the fragment that had been found. Edwin Bollier worked for a firm that made circuit boards used in these MST-13 timers, and during the trial he stated that his principal customer was the Libyan Government, in particular Libyan Military Security, and had made frequent trips to Libya. He also stated that in December 1988, he had been asked to supply some MST-13 timer components to the Libyan Army, although he made other statements about his activities which conflicted with each other so was deemed to be an unreliable witness. The trial also stated that the light brown suitcase had been packed with the clothes bought from Mary’s House and the Toshiba radio cassette player, which contained the Semtex explosive device and MST-13 timer. It then had been carried on a flight from Malta to Frankfurt in Germany, then on to another flight to London Heathrow Airport, where it was finally transferred onto a flight for New York, Pan Am Flight 103. On the 31st of January 2001, Abdelbaset al-Megrahi was found guilty, mostly due to the evidence of Tony Gauci, the owner of the Mary’s House clothes shop in Malta, identifying him as the man he had sold the clothes to, the pieces of which were later found with a fragment of the light brown suitcase. However, Lamen Khalifa Fhimah was found not guilty as he had been in Sweden on the day of the bombing so could not have been involved. An appeal was lodged in 2002, however this was denied as being without merit. al-Megrahi continued to maintain his innocence throughout the trial and his time in prison, and he said most of the evidence against him was circumstantial. It was also found out that the owner of the clothes shop, Tony Gauci, had received a $2 million dollar reward from the CIA for his testimony, which cast some doubt on the outcome of the trial. Although in 2003, Libya did formally accept responsibility for the Lockerbie bombing in a letter that pledged to compensate survivors and renounce terrorism, and represented the first official acknowledgement that Colonel Gaddafi’s Libyan government was involved. In 2009, a second appeal was due to be heard for al-Megrahi, but he applied to have this dropped due to his terminal prostate cancer prognosis, which also led to him being released on compassionate grounds a few months later. Abdelbaset al-Megrahi died in Tripoli, Libya in 2012.


In 1988, Ken Dornstein was in his parents kitchen in New York when he heard about the Lockerbie bombing, but he did not know at that moment that his older brother, David Dornstein, had been on the plane, having changed his plans to return early to surprise his family. In the years after his brother’s death, Ken wrote a memoir about his brother called ‘The Boy That Fell Out of the Sky’ which was published in 2006. This would have been Ken’s way of honouring his brother. That is until 2009 when he heard about the only man convicted of the attack. Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, had been released early on compassionate grounds due to a terminal cancer prognosis, and decided to find out more of what had happened to his brother and the other victims of the Lockerbie bombing. He examined documents from the trial and even travelled to Libya to interview many of those suspected but not charged. It was during an interview when the name Abu Agila Mas’ud was mentioned, including in a declassified CIA cable, which is an early form of text messaging between countries, along with his passport number, however, it wasn’t clear if this person existed or if it was a pseudonym. The declassified CIA cable had explained that Mas’ud had travelled with al-Megrahi to Malta in December 1988, where the trial had stated the bomb had been packed into the light brown suitcase and ended up on Pan Am Flight 103. Ken went on further trips to Libya in 2011, after the fall of Colonel Gaddafi, with a list of people he suspected of being involved, but found many of them had died or weren’t accessible. However, the wife of one of the suspects mentioned Edwin Bollier from Switzerland who had confessed to making components for bombs for the Libyans to be used in Europe, although he later recanted this. Ken travelled to Switzerland and tracked down Bollier who admitted not only that he knew al-Megrahi but may have met Mas’ud. Ken started to examine the files related to Bollier and found details of an East Berlin club bombing in 1986 where investigators mentioned a bomb technician called Mas’ud who had built the device, and mentioned the same passport number from the declassified CIA cable. Ken travelled to East Berlin and tracked down a Libyan operative called Musbah Eter who mentioned they knew Mas’ud. Later, in 2015, show trials were held of former Gaddafi regime members, who were paraded in front of the cameras. Behind one of the people photographed was a person that Eter confirmed was Mas’ud, who Ken decided to go to Libya and track down as part of a TV documentary ‘My brother’s bomber’, although this was unsuccessful. He then handed over his investigation to the FBI. It would not be until 2020, thanks largely to the investigation work carried out by Ken Dornstein, that on the 32nd anniversary of the Lockerbie bombing charges would finally be filed against Abu Agila Mas’ud, with his trial yet to be held.


The surviving members of the Flannigan family, Steven and David, were awarded £2 million or $3.5 million each in compensation by Pan Am, which David referred to as dirty money, and what remained of this after his death passed to his brother Steven. When Steven also died, his son Luke, inherited the money, later receiving another £6 million or $10 million from the Libyan Government as the only direct descendant of the Flannigan family, which was placed into a trust fund. He was given access to the money in 2018 when it was worth £18 million or $25 million, but he said that he would rather have had his dad back than have the money. In 1992, Pan Am were found guilty of wilful negligence as they had failed to implement security procedures that required unaccompanied luggage to be searched by hand, which may have detected the bomb within the light brown suitcase, and when someone fails to make the departure gate, like Jaswant Basuta, their baggage must be removed. It is sad to see how easily what happened could have been prevented had these procedures been properly followed. However, since Pan Am were bankrupt by then, their insurers paid out £2 million or $3.5 million for each victim in compensation. What happened to all those people on board Pan Am Flight 103 and those on the ground that night on the 21st of December 1988 will never be forgotten by those in Lockerbie, and is marked with a memorial in Dryfesdale Cemetery to all those who died, and a stained-glass window in Lockerbie Town Hall representing the countries where the victims of Pan Am Flight 103 came from.

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Cole: Please also get in touch on social media if you have any questions, comments or suggestions, and we’ll get back to you as soon as we can. All social media and contact details are on our website, as well as all the source material and photos related to this episode.

Dawn: So, that’s it for this week, come back next time for another episode of Scottish Murders.

Dawn and Cole: Join us there! Bye!

Granny Robertson: Scottish Murders is a production of Cluarantonn.

Scottish Murders is a production of Cluarantonn

Hosted by Dawn and Cole

Researched and Written by Peter Bull

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Scottish Murders is an award short listed, fortnightly true crime podcast that focuses entirely on murders carried out in Scotland or involving Scottish people, hosted by Dawn, and occasionally her sister Cole.

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