Dec 21, 1988: Music Stars and Pan Am Flight 103

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The Four Tops’ 1988 album was called Indestructible

At 7:03 pm (GMT), on Dec. 21, 1988, Pan Am Flight 103 was destroyed, almost instantaneously, 38 minutes after takeoff, when a bomb in the forward cargo area exploded. The plane was at 31,000 feet over Lockerbie, Scotland. It had taken off from London-Heathrow and was en route to John F. Kennedy Airport in New York.

The bomb killed 270 people including citizens from 21 countries. Among the 190 Americans lost were 35 Syracuse University students returning home to the United States for the holidays after a semester studying abroad. Of the 43 victims from the United Kingdom, eleven residents of Lockerbie perished on the ground as fiery debris from the falling aircraft destroyed an entire city block of homes.

The Boeing 747 headed to Detroit from London had at least six would-be passengers that were missing from its manifest as it took to the skies on this day in 1988.

The famed Motown R&B group the Four Tops had been scheduled to board Pan Am Flight 103 on December 21 to return to the United States for Christmas after completing their European tour. Original member Duke Fakir recounted the singing group’s fortune at a 2016 London press gathering: “The producer on Top of The Pops was the reason we didn’t get on that plane.”

Fakir explained: “We had two shows to do and we were going to record them at the same time. One of them was not going out until New Year’s Eve and the producer didn’t want us to play them at the same time. He wouldn’t have it.”

They instead took a later British Airways flight.

Related: The intersection of the Four Tops and Moody Blues

Punk rock musician John Lydon (also known as Johnny Rotten) of the Sex Pistols and Public Image Ltd. and his wife, Nora, were booked on the flight, but missed it due to delays. He told the Scottish Sunday Mirror: “We only missed the flight because Nora hadn’t packed in time. We had a big row and then took the next flight out,” he said. “The minute we realised what happened, we just looked at each other and almost collapsed.”

One musician was not so fortunate when it came to the notorious bombing of a passenger jet over Lockerbie, Scotland, in a terrorist act directly ordered, it was later learned, by Libyan dictator Colonel Muammar Al-Gaddafi.

Paul Avron Jeffreys (former bassist for Steve Harley and Cockney Rebel, and Be Bop Deluxe, among others) was en-route to his honeymoon and was one of the 270 souls who lost their lives. He was 36.

In Dec. 2022, a terrorist suspect made his initial appearance in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on federal charges. “Nearly 34 years ago, 270 people, including 190 Americans, were tragically killed in the terrorist bombing of Pan Am Flight 103. Since then, American and Scottish law enforcement have worked tirelessly to identify, find, and bring to justice the perpetrators of this horrific attack. Those relentless efforts over the past three decades led to the indictment and arrest of a former Libyan intelligence operative for his alleged role in building the bomb used in the attack,” said Attorney General Merrick B. Garland in a Dec. 12 statement. “The defendant is currently in U.S. custody and is facing charges in the United States. This is an important step forward in our mission to honor the victims and pursue justice on behalf of their loved ones.”

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