Cara A. Howe 2014-09-29 11:41:49
On December 21, 1988, a Pan American Airways Boeing 747 was en route from London’s Heathrow Airport to the John F. Kennedy Airport in New York City when a Semtex plastic explosive, hidden in a Toshiba radio cassette player in the forward cargo hold, detonated at 31,000 feet. In less than three minutes, 270 men, women, and children lost their lives over the small town of Lockerbie, Scotland. On board the plane were thirty-five students who had spent the semester studying abroad through Syracuse University. The university community was devastated, but remained committed to remembering the students who were killed. In 1990 the Pan Am Flight 103/Lockerbie Air Disaster Archives was established and dedicated to the memory of the thirtyfive students. In the years since, we have expanded the archives to include material on all facets of the disaster, from the coordinated investigation between US and UK agencies, the changes to airline security, and the art and literature inspired by the event, to the lives of the victims and their loved ones’ campaign for justice. Also included is information on the indictments and the international trial of two Libyans— one of whom was eventually convicted of the mass murder of 270 people. Launching the Project To commemorate the twenty-fifth anniversary of the bombing, the archives launched “Telling the Stories: The Pan Am Flight 103 Story Archives Project” in an effort to fully document the disaster and its aftermath. The project focuses on gathering oral history interviews with individuals who have personal knowledge of Pan Am 103. These stories include memories of the people who lost their lives in the bombing; the days immediately following the disaster; the effect the bombing had on individuals, local communities, and nations; and how the tragedy has shaped the world we live in today. The purpose of the project was to allow those who were affected by this tragedy to tell the story as they remember it. The power of the spoken word is often missing from the archival record, and the Pan Am 103/Lockerbie Air Disaster Archives was no different. It became clear that certain individuals were very vocal, and consequently their experiences and viewpoints dominated the mainstream media’s reporting of the disaster. We hoped that “Telling the Stories” would provide an outlet for those who never had the chance to share their thoughts. After twenty-five years, the window of opportunity to connect with individuals affected by the tragedy was quickly closing, so we decided to capitalize on a trip the archives staff was taking to gather materials in the United Kingdom. Completing the Interviews We were overwhelmed by the response we received, especially from Police Scotland District V (formerly the Dumfries and Galloway Constabulary), which had spearheaded the search and rescue efforts and ultimately the massive international investigation that led to the conviction of the Libyan intelligence agent in 2001. We interviewed twenty-seven people during our trip, many of whom were police officers and first responders who faced a disaster of an unprecedented scale. We decided to use video to record the interviews—not only did we feel that this was feasible, but also that the facial expressions and body language imparted during the interviews would enhance the researchers’ understanding of the disaster. These video interviews have proven to be an invaluable source of information that was previously only available in lengthy and dry reports. Making available these oral histories, which poignantly depict the horror of the event and the commitment of those involved, has enhanced our collection immeasurably. We have sixty-seven oral history interviews in the archives. Two of these interviews are audio only—one participant was uncomfortable being filmed, and the other was recorded by a family member. “Telling the Stories” also has been expanded to include interviews done by a Syracuse University news station in 2008 and written narratives submitted by individuals who want to record an oral history but are unable to be present in person to record a session. We have chosen to include items like these because it has truly morphed from a project into a collection, and we want to capture anyone’s story—regardless of technological barriers. As interest in the collection remains high, we plan to continue to regularly add interviews. Preview the Collection The collection may be previewed at http://archives.syr.edu/panam/story_archives/. We share one- to two-minute clips of each interview, which was stipulated by the release form each participant signed. We also provide digital copies of the written narratives if digitization permission was given. The entire oral history interviews are intended for archival purposes only and are therefore only available in full in our reading room. “Telling the Stories” was initially launched because of Syracuse University’s connection with many of the passengers on Pan Am Flight 103. Through this program, we’ve become familiar with all the victims and many of the countless people affected by this disaster. We hope the power of the interviewees’ words helps to shine more light on this tragedy and the lives that were lost.
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