IRELAND could have witnessed its first major international terrorist incident if the Pan-Am flight which crashed over Lockerbie in Scotland in 1988 had left London’s Heathrow Airport on schedule.
Air accident investigators yesterday revealed the bomb which exploded on the New York-bound flight which killed 270 people would have been passing close to Longford if the Boeing 747 aircraft had departed London on time.
Details were disclosed during a media briefing by the Department of Transport’s Air Accident Investigation Unit (AAIU).
AAIU inspectors said that due to a 20-minute delay, the pilot was instructed by air traffic controllers to alter the original flight path due to traffic and weather conditions. The original flight path would have taken it over the Irish midlands.
The bomb exploded 37 minutes into the flight, killing all 259 passengers and crew on board, as well as 11 people on the ground.
AAIU chief inspector Jurgen Whyte said 90% of all transatlantic traffic would pass through Irish airspace within the next few years.
Given their important role in international aviation traffic, Mr Whyte claimed it was likely the Irish authorities would be involved in any investigation into a future terrorist incident.
Although the AAIU would not have a sufficient number of personnel to investigate any major accident, Mr Whyte said the Irish authorities would have no difficulty in leading any such investigation.
The last major accident in Irish airspace occurred in 1968 when an Aer Lingus Viscount aircraft crashed into the sea off Tuskar Rock, killing all 61 people on board. However, the Irish authorities were also centrally involved in the aftermath of the bombing of an Air India flight which went down of the south-west coast in 1985.
Around 4,000 incidents are notified to the AAIU each year, although only around 30 events result in actual detailed investigations and reports being compiled.
There are on average 42 fatal accidents involving commercial aircraft worldwide each year. The average number of people killed in such accidents each year is 1,041, including around four in Ireland.
However, Mr Whyte stressed that the number of fatalities with commercial airlines had to be seen against a background that they carry more than two billion passengers each year.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved