The Lockerbie Disaster 25 years later

Huffington Post Article, 21 December 2013 by Dr. Helen Davey

It was 25 years ago that the first photographs of Pan Am’s Clipper Maid of the Seas lying shattered in that Scottish Meadow began flashing across television screens across the world.  It was to mark the end of pleasant air travel for all of us, and sadly, was the nail in the coffin that brought about the demise of Pan American World Airways.  No one at the time could have guessed what enormous impact that disaster would have on everyone.

On December 21st, 2013, the Smithsonian Channel aired The Lockerbie Bombing, a stunningly chilling account of what happened on that night in Lockerbie, as well as its aftermath.  Using footage from Scotland’s SVT news archives, it features first-hand testimonies from residents of Lockerbie as well as emergency responders and four families of American victims of the terrorist bombing.

This program is an excellent depiction of the trauma inflicted upon the Lockerbie residents and the families of the passengers who were killed in such a horrifying act of murder.  There was, however, one important group left out of this and every other documentary on the subject that I have ever seen as well  – – the Pan Am family.

As a former Pan Am flight attendant for twenty years, and a psychoanalyst and psychotherapist who specializes in trauma, I want to point out that the Pan Am employees in 1988 (and former employees as well) were traumatized immeasurably and continue even now to grieve for the loss of so many friends. Nowhere in these documentaries is the Pan Am crew mentioned.  There was only one frame in this new documentary in which a Pan Am flight attendant’s crew bag can be seen, and you can be sure that those of us who were watching gasped when we saw it.

For many years Pan Am was blamed and excoriated for not preventing the Lockerbie disaster.  It was not until September 11, 2001 that the American public began to wake up to the fact that if a terrorist group is determined enough to create unbelievable destruction, one airline alone is not going to be able to stop them.

And it was not until after September 11 that any broadcasts began to acknowledge the heroism of the American Airlines and United Airlines crews that were involved in the terrorist attacks.  After all, the flight crews are the front line of defense, and nobody ever signed onto this job thinking they could be murdered on an airplane. Airplane crashes, yes; murder, no!

Hopefully, someday, somebody will tell the Lockerbie story from the Pan Am point of view.  I think the world would be shocked at the depth of the employees’ traumatic reactions that continue to this day.  Many Pan-Amers feel deep shame that they can’t “get over it,” thinking they “should” be past it all now.  They experience the double whammy of feeling shame of the impossible requirement to “just move on” from the pain.

Moreover, that deep pain is accompanied by a deep love, that we all shared for our beloved company, and is a perfect example of collective trauma borne out of undying loyalty.