Dr. Helen Davey We are all brothers and sisters in the same dark night, and putting our worst fears and images into words with each other is the most profound and lasting way to deal with our traumatic reactions. And by the way don’t expect to completely ever “get over” this. That is really not possible because of the many ramifications for all of us that followed that awful night.
Muffy Harmar: I had arrived back in London the morning before (20 December). The three pilots, Jim, Ray and Jerry had been my pilots on that flight and I had worked upstairs the entire flight, and obviously served them their meals and drinks. When we arrived in London, I had finished all of my flights for the month of December and was looking forward to having Christmas and New Year off. On the 21st of December I just happened to be watching television at about 2045 when a newsflash appeared announcing that Flight 103 “was missing”.
It was obviously such a shock to all London based flight attendants, who heard this news, so we started telephoning the base. However, no news was given out, either what was thought to have happened or who was the crew. Of course we had the usual monthly awards showing which crew members should have been on board. So, for example, I knew that my best friend Gerry Murphy should have been senior purser. However, that was no guarantee, as sometimes crew members call in sick, etc. So everyone was really worried.
The next morning I decided to go to the Flight Service Office at 0600 to see if I could help in any way. For the first time I saw the official crew list. It was such a shock, as I knew everyone. I had transferred to the London base when it first opened in 1972, after being based in JFK, Los Angeles and San Franciso, and apart from a two year period when I was based in Honolulu and then when I was an instructor at the training school in Hawaii, I flew out of London until that dreadful night, 21st December 1988, and then until the London base closed in 1991. In the Flight Service Office I helped set up a small briefing room where crew members going out on flights could come in and have a cup of coffee and look at informal photos of the 103 crew. It was a place where they could feel free to cry, have a hug, and talk about their friends and former crew colleagues. They could also read the telegrams sent by The Queen, The Prime Minister, etc. I then helped out on a daily basis until the 5th of January, the date of the London Base Memorial Service.
Some of the crew I had helped to train at the training school in Hawaii; others I had taught their 1204 class which they had to complete before the end of probation, and I had taught the two pursers their CPR training. One of the most junior flight attendants, for some reason, showed up for her flight two days early. She was sent home. Amazingly she turned up again the next day, still on the wrong day. Scheduling said they did not need her that day on the 103 Flight because the load was quite light. However, they decided to let her work on the flight as the return flight was full. She was obviously meant to be on that flight – so very sad.
Note: For more of Muffy’s recollections see Lockerbie Remembrances.
Susan Gibbs Murphy/Class 10B 1988: I had a week off in December 1988. I decided to go to Jamaica – by myself, as none of my friends were available. I stayed at a hotel in Montego Bay. One night, I was at a casual restaurant, and another lone diner struck up conversation with me. I told him I was a Pan Am Flight Attendant – and he immediately told me there was a plane crash on a flight to Scotland. “All I know is there were no survivors.” My first thought was that we didn’t fly to Scotland, but deep down, I knew our JFK flights flew over that land after departing London.
This was back in the days before 24-hour news, before cell phones – or even email. There wasn’t the sense of urgency there is now. As I sat there and wondered who I might know on the crew – I never stopped to wonder who back home might be wondering about me. This was actually the first month that I’d provided my parents with my flight schedule. I’d told them that I would be going to Jamaica that week. I honestly didn’t think to call. It’s so strange to remember that feeling when I finally got in front of a TV in Jamaica: to see the devastation televised made it real for the first time. It must have been two days later that I departed Montego Bay, Jamaica for Miami. Once I got to Miami, I went straight to a crew operations room that I was able to find. The first thing I saw was the list of names. “Jocelyn. DAMN. Gerry Murphy…..”
I pulled myself together – then found a pay phone. I called my sister-in-law, who I knew would be at home, as she was on maternity leave. She answered the phone and the first thing she said was, “Where are you?!” I explained the situation, then called my dad and did so again….. He told me that so many people had been calling to check on me. His response was always, “We’re pretty sure she’s in Jamaica.” (That seems so strange these days – the fact that we truly disconnected back then.)
I worked a flight to New York on Christmas Day. It wasn’t the 103 – but it departed London at the same time. Pan Am was one of the only carriers that flew on Christmas Day – and we were packed. I have some memories of the passengers on that flight. At least one said something rude. But many said supportive things – even though I could tell they weren’t sure what to say…..
When I got back to London, I delayed my trip back home for Christmas by a couple of days. I knew there was work to do. I walked into the Command Post and said, “Tell me what you need me to do.” We were working to set up a charter flight to Lockerbie for the families – and we needed to set up catering and other details. We were answering the hotline – the number you could call to see if a loved one was “on the list.” Some people knew – but just wanted confirmation. Some, we had to break the news to them. One of the toughest things I had to do, though, was put together a seating chart. I had the names of all the passengers and their assigned seats. And I had to take a seating chart of the plane, increase its size on the photocopier, and then write the passenger’s name on the respective seat. It wasn’t a full flight – so we knew some of them likely moved around. But I remember most the various families that were seated together…..
When I was in the departure lounge, awaiting my flight that would take me home to spend a belated Christmas with my family, my heart ached. And I cried. One of the caterers recognized me – and he knew I’d been at the Command Post the last couple of days. He had a word with the agents and they upgraded me. That was so nice – and I’ll never forget it.
In the weeks and months that followed, we often got the message in the pre-flight briefing that we had a family member on board – a loved one who was traveling to Lockerbie…. We had to be strong – but we were also compassionate. We too were heartbroken.
Years later, I moved back to London and married a Scottish guy. One time we drove from London to Glasgow. We saw the sign for Lockerbie, and pulled off and immediately found the memorial. I was surprised at how raw it still felt. I burst into tears — as so many memories came flooding back….
Hans Vollmer: I was watching tennis in Miami when I heard the news, rushed home and could not leave my TV, I felt numb and like I as having a nightmare, but it was true. It could have been any one of us…. let us never forget.
Romlee Stoughton: The last passenger was just off the plane after arriving in Detroit from London. We walked off the plane together with the pilots because they told us that flight 103 was in an accident. It was our intention to avoid local Detroit news reporters just outside the terminal. Obviously concerned, I phoned my parents from the terminal. My mother was crying and told me that my two roommates were on the flight – Lilibeth and Irja. Not knowing what really happened at this point, I told her, “But they’re okay. I’m sure they’re okay.” My mother responded, “There are no survivors.” I almost dropped to the floor and began crying profusely. A passenger came over to me and asked me if I was alright and what was wrong. I simply ran out of the terminal and back to my crew waiting for transportation to take us to the hotel. I told the crew what my mother from Dallas heard on the news. There was a huge gasp from everyone and then crying. The pilots knew the whole time but were trying to shelter us from the truth for as long as possible I suppose. We arrived at the hotel and met in the purser’s room. Turned on the TV and watched the flames cover Lockerbie in utter disbelief. Needless to say, many of us stayed together for the entire night. We operated our trip back to London emotionally numb. Basically just going through the motions and shedding a tear in the galley when we couldn’t keep our composure. The passengers were very low-key and never mentioned anything to us. We arrived back in London and saw the Inflight Office shrouded with candles and sympathy floral arrangements from other airlines. I went to my mailbox only to find Lilibeth’s Christmas card that she must have put in there that evening before the 103 briefing. I had a breakdown. A very, very dark time for me and so many others!!
Cindy da Silva Cassidy: I was at Miami wating for my mother to transit on her way to Mexico for the holidays. I was expecting Gerald W Cassidy, Captain JFK, who later became my husband. He was due to arrive that night from Frankfurt via JFK and then pass ride to Miami. I heard of the “missing airplane” and could not figure out how we could have a missing airplane. When I understood the aircraft had fallen out of the sky, I instantly started worrying as the cockpit crews for the London and Frankfurt flights often swapped out due to illegal crew duty times. As it turned out, Jerry Cassidy had been asked to swap with Jim McQuarrie but did not, as his daughter was with him. Such is fate. I will never ever forget..and I believe that this was the beginning of the end for our beloved Pan Am
Ellen Raisbeck: I was in Munich that day, ready to work back to JFK. My husband was flying from Frankfurt that day and I was so scared he was on that flight until I heard the flight number. I knew he was going non-stop. I was formerly London based and knew most of the crew. One person wasn’t scheduled to be on that flight, but filled in for someone sick. Another was just about to retire and open up a shop in France. Another was newly engaged. And on and on. So many lives changed. All the best to their families and their Pan Am families.
Mary Beberman Heine: I did not know any of the crew members, but I was new to flying, just passing my 6 month probation on December 10th, 1988. I had just replaced my silver wings with my new gold wings at my JFK base. I had returned from my Vienna trip on Sunday, December 18th. I wouldn’t fly my next Vienna trip until December 23rd, 2 days after the the Pan Am 103 exploded.
I had not known that Pan Am 103 had been deliberately brought down, and was out that day running errands, and appointments. This was before the Internet, so unless you were by the TV, you didn’t know the news. I returned home to find 7 messages on my answering machine. They were all from my siblings and mom, asking me “are you okay”? I could hear the terror, tears, and worry in their voices, so I called my Mom back immediately. She cried out, “Oh my God, thank goodness you weren’t on that flight”. I said, “What flight? What happened”? She said, “Turn on CNN”.
And then I saw that iconic picture of the 747 laying on its side in that field. I went numb as I listened to what had happened. I was in shock, and couldn’t understand why this had happened. What made it even more dreadful was hearing that it had gone down in Scotland. My older sister lives in Scotland, before I heard the town of Lockerbie, I was worried that perhaps it could have been my sister’s house. But she lives in Edinburgh.
I got a phone call from Pan Am at 2:30 a.m. that night, telling me that my sister was okay, that she wasn’t working on the flight. I was confused, until I realized Pan Am was referring to me. My other siblings had probably placed a very frantic call to Pan Am earlier when they weren’t able to reach me.
I was just heartsick, and sat shell-shocked to the TV, hearing speculations about what could have happened. I saw those Duty Free brochures laying on the ground, and was imaging where in the service they might have been. Christmas was a few days away, but I didn’t even care about the holidays anymore, knowing there were thousands of people crying and grieving for their loved ones. The one TV image I will never forget was that they showed a woman at the airport fainting and wailing when she received the news of her college-aged child dying. I wished I had never seen that, because it hit me hard, knowing her life was forever changed.
I drove up to JFK on Friday, December 23rd, for my report at 4:10 pm. I gave myself 4 hours to get there, usually it was a 2 hour and 15 minute drive. I had not figured in the holiday traffic, and was in terrible bumper to bumper traffic. Again, this was before cell phones, so I would pull off to a rest stop to call Scheduling, to tell them I would be late. I did that twice, not arriving to the airplane until after all the passengers had boarded. By this time I was in tears with Scheduling, apologizing profusely for making such a mistake in gauging travel time. They were very nice to me, telling me it would be okay, not to cry, but to drive safely. Apparently I had heard that over 100 flight attendants had quit their jobs, saying they just couldn’t go back to flying, so I’m sure Scheduling was busy, trying to man all these holiday flights.
When I got to JFK, there was no Christmas music playing, and the terminal was quite somber. Even when I boarded the flight, everything was very quiet, and the passengers were quiet in their seats. We all knew that flying would never be the same. I have never been able to rest on my crew breaks since Pan Am 103, as I keep anticipating an explosion and immediate decompression. This will never leave me.
I’ve heard about the flight attendants who had died on the flight from other crew members. I mourn for their lives. I am so glad we have this site to talk about them, and how it has affected all of us.
Myron Rosie Rosenstein: I was in London on vacation, Pan Am Ops at JFK contacted me, to head to Lockerbie the morning of December 22, 1988, from London to Glasgow and then on to Lockerbie. I remained there several weeks, assisting and traveling Lockerbie to London each day as a courier for the Pan Am Director in the Lockerbie Command Center. My wife, Anne Farmer Rosenstein, was also there the first week. Anne was passenger service at Heathrow.
Tony Vincent: On a crew bus from NYC Doral enroute to JFK. I had headphones on listening to local radio when the news of a plane crash was broadcast. The name of the carrier was unofficially broadcast. All I remember saying is “we lost one”. This was the moment in history when Pan Am would begin its unrecoverable decline.
John A. Bibas RKL: I worked on telecom issues at JFK that day. I didn’t hear the news until I got home to New Jersey. The next day I was sent to PAB to work the Command Center and stayed for several weeks.