On Wed. Dec. 21, 1988, Pan Am Flight 103 exploded in midair as it traveled from London to New York City. Before the Boeing 747–121 — nicknamed the Clipper Maid of the Seas — could reach the Atlantic, a timer-activated bomb detonated inside the plane from its hiding spot in a cassette player packed away in a suitcase. The explosion scattered pieces of the plane over 850 square miles of Lockerbie, Scotland, as well as the remains of the 243 passengers and 16 crew members. Twenty-one houses on the ground were destroyed, and 11 people there also lost their lives.

An international conflict arose in the aftermath. The United States had conducted a bombing campaign against Libya’s capital city, Tripoli, in 1986, and many suspected the Pan Am disaster was a direct retaliation, since most of the plane’s passengers were Americans. When Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi refused to turn over the two intelligence agents suspected to be responsible, sanctions were imposed on the country by the U.S. and the United Nations Security Council. Qaddafi eventually extradited the men in 1998. One of them, Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi, was convicted in 2001 and sentenced to 27 years in prison; he was released in 2009 on “compassionate grounds” and died of prostate cancer last year. His suspected accomplice, Lamin Khalifa Fhimah, was acquitted.

Deborah Brevoort based her 2003 poetic drama Women of Lockerbie on the terrorist attack. In the play, which was written with the structure of a Greek tragedy, a woman whose son died in the bombing discovers a group of women who are trying to collect the victims’ clothing, which had been scattered across Lockerbie. They plan to wash 11,000 items as a symbolic gesture, but find resistance from a U.S. official. Brevoort won the Kennedy Center’s Fund for New American Plays Award for her script.

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