Today we mark a very sad moment in our world's history. Twenty five years ago 270 people lost their lives when a 747 aeroplane en route from London to the USA exploded over the little town of Lockerbie on the Scottish borders.
Memorials are planned here in the UK and in the USA, where so many people lost loved ones. No matter the passage of the years the pain will still be as raw as they think back on those they lost that day, and the human potential which came so abruptly to an end that evening. So many of the travellers that Christmas were young people returning home to the US, or visiting friends across the pond.
I always remember this day - but for a different reason.
Wednesday December 21st 1988 was my 30th birthday and I awoke feeling rather traumatised. Other 'big' birthdays have come and gone since but the Big 30 seemed like a very large milestone at the time. I knew it was irrational but I could not shake myself out of self pity. I had told no one that it was my birthday and for the first time ever I had chosen not to take the day off work.
At the time I worked as a reporter/producer/newsreader for BBC Jersey - a local radio station in the Channel Islands (Great Britain) - and I was on the 'late shift'. I started at lunchtime and would work through the afternoon, and then when everyone else left around 6pm I would be on my own.
For someone who was already feeling a little down, being alone on birthday night was not a great decision. But it was a busy shift - while BBC Jersey broadcast the evening 'shared' show transmitted from our sister stations on the British mainland, my tasks would include completing the production for the local early show for the following morning, a Thursday. This might involve some recorded local interviews, telephone conversations and writing up of stories, as well as monitoring the national feeds and ensuring that stories for the next day which came through on the BBC nationwide 'circuit' system were recorded and available for my colleagues.
My final job of the day would be to compile and read the news headlines (national/international/regional/local) and local weather forecast at 10pm.
In the days before internet, we received all national and wider regional news through a large telex machine which constantly spewed out reams of paper. Although we had no locally-initiated news bulletins between 6 and 10pm other stations around the country would have, and so the news stories kept coming, as well as cues for stories and features which could be picked up via the aforementioned BBC 'circuit' recording system. The television was on in the corner of the toom, tuned to BBC 1, just for company.
Mid-evening, probably around 7.30pm the telex machine suddenly sprang into action. I recall walking to the machine and reading a headline 'Air Crash over Scottish borders'. If I remember rightly, at first it was thought that two fighter planes may have collided mid-air. However, over the next few hours the sheer horror of what had occurred became clear. The telex machine told the story as my BBC colleagues in Newsgathering in London, Scotland and across the world put together the bones of what had happened. Within an hour or so BBC and ITV national networks were running newsflashes. Remember this was in the day before digital TV ... there were just a few terrestrial channels available.
The information was sparse - the time that PanAm flight 103 left London Heathrow (18:25) en route for New York JFK ; the time that the aircraft disappeared from radar over the Scottish borders (just a few minutes after 19:00); reports of a huge explosion in the small rural town of Lockerbie. Then there were the growing numbers of feared victims - more than 250 on board the flight itself, and lives lost on the ground. The news story developed as the evening progressed and the enormity of the tragedy that was unfolding all those miles away in Scotland became clear to me.
I turned to the BBC 9 O'clock television news and the story was, of course, headlining, although the details which we would learn over the ensuing days were yet not there. We didn't know yet that it was a bomb on board the aircraft, in an unaccompanied suitcase, which has exploded mid-air. We were yet to learn the names of the individuals - young, old, families, business people and dignitaries, those headed home for the holidays - whose lives were ripped from them that night, including 11 residents of Lockerbie who were killed when parts of an aircraft dropped from the sky onto their quiet little hamlet.
At 10pm I had the sombre duty of reading the news to the world that was Jersey. I can't remember what local headlines were in that bulletin, or indeed if there was any other national or regional news other than brief headlines. As the duty producer it was down to me to decide how much time was given over to the PanAm 103 story and I guess most of that short bulletin would have been taken up by that news.
I do remember the immense sense of responsibility that overwhelmed me as the BBC Jersey news jingle played and I pressed the 'live mic' button.
As I've said, this was in the unsophisticated media days, before internet and mobile technology, before digital television platforms and 'rolling news' channels. This was in the day when many people still got their news from their daily papers, some would have watched the TV news but many more would still have relied on their 'wirelesses' for their evening headlines. On a personal level, I had several aunts who didn't even own a TV and I knew always listened to the BBC Jersey 10 0'clock news before they retired to bed.
I was aware that for them, the first they would hear of the Lockerbie Air Disaster would come from me - their local newsreader. I was aware that I was delivering news that would shock and appall. And how I delivered that news was important.
We are trained to read news without too much emotion. I don't know whether I achieved that on that particular evening. I remember my heart beat very fast through the length of that bulletin. As I read out the telephone number for people to contact, in case they believed they had relatives on board the ill-fated flight, and repeated that number ... I became acutely aware that for many people the night would be highly personal and would change their world forever.
Of course, we now know that Lockerbie changed all our lives. We lived in a world where hijackings of aeroplanes was common. We were living through turbulent times where terrorism was an everyday fact of life. But this vile act was something different. Apart from anything else it fundamentally changed the way we travelled - no more unaccompanied luggage, much greater security at airports, more anxiety for travellers. It truly was a turning point and the next would be post 9-11 when once again we would scrutinise and improve air safety. But of course, for the relatives and friends of those who had lost their lives, that night was so much more significant.
After the 10pm bulletin, I ensured the 'handover' for my colleagues was in order, knowing that what I had left in the 'Morning Show' tray would probably not be used. News from Lockerbie, from London and from New York would continue to develop overnight and the next day's bulletins and radio shows would be dominated by the PanAm 103 story.
I would usually have discarded all the paper from the evening, but on that day I left the piles of telex alerts for my colleagues who would pick up the story the following morning. It was a sort of testament to the evening's events and I didn't want to just consign it to the bin. However, BBC Jersey was off air and would not be back in action until around 7am the following morning. There was no more I could do.
I locked the office, turned on the security systems and walked the short distance home. I was very sad, but in a strange way, no longer depressed at being one year older. I thanked God that I was alive. And I went to bed thinking of all those who had been lost that evening, and their families and friends who would soon be receiving the worst news of their lives.
Today - 25 years on - I think and pray again for those on both sides of the Atlantic for whom December 21st is annually a reminder of their loss, a day when sadness is relived but life is celebrated.