Monday, December 21, 2009
A very sad anniversary to recognize- it was twenty-one years ago today that a Boeing 747-121, bearing s/n 19646 and registered to Pan Am as N739PA took off from Heathrow and ascended into immortality. Clipper Maid of the Seas as she was known was the third and final flight of the day from London to New York and was filled with passengers anxious to return home to the states for the holidays. Among the two hundred fifty nine aboard were thirty five students from Syracuse University returning home after a semester abroad.
The fifteenth 747 ever assembled, Clipper Maid was delivered to Pan Am in February of 1970. Now well into her middle age, she had circled the globe for almost eighteen years without incident. That morning she had arrived at Heathrow from San Francisco and parked at Kilo 14 from which she would depart as Flight 103. She pushed back at 18:04 PM local time and was given take off clearance at 18:24. Pilot Captain James Bruce "Jim" MacQuarrie, a Pan Am veteran with over 4,000 hours of experience at the helm of the 747 pushed the thrust levers forward for the final time and three hundred tons of aircraft raced down the runway and lifted off.
Clipper Maid climbed to 31,000 feet and entered Scottish airspace at 19:00 GMT. Air control at Prestwick, Scotland contacted the craft. Captain MacQuarrie radioed back "Good Evening Scottish, Clipper One Zero Three. We are at level Three One Zero."
Moments later First Officer Raymond Wagner requested oceanic clearance. Pam Am 103 was flying normally at flight level 310, compass direction 316 magnetic, and airspeed of 313 knots. Everything was exquisitely ordinary. And then at 19:02.46.9, PA103 disappeared from radar.
Of course we all know what happened, that a cowardly act of terrorism literally blew the 747 apart. And as tragic and horrifying as it was, today is a day to remember the victims and their families and not the perpetrators.
Twenty one years ago today, Clipper Maid of the Seas fell from the sky taking with her two hundred seventy souls heading home for the holidays. May their memory be part of us now and always.