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Lockerbie remembered 30 years on: ‘Something hit the roof of my van’

Rory Gillies, from Lerwick, saw a ‘huge inferno’ after Pan Am Flight 103 exploded.

rory gillies sandwick
Rory Gillies pictured in 2016 when speaking about his Shetland Flyer drone photography work.

AN ISLES man who was caught up in the Lockerbie bombing has reflected on seeing a ‘huge inferno’ in the Scottish town as the terror incident reaches its 30th anniversary.

A total of 270 people died when a Pan Am flight travelling between London and New York was blown up over the southern Scottish town.

Rory Gillies, who lives in Lerwick, happened to be driving near to Lockerbie on the evening of the tragic incident.

Despite being about one mile away from the town, he saw explosions ahead before his van was hit by debris from the air.

Following other traffic and unsure of what was happening, he ended driving through Lockerbie itself before being waved through “urgently” by the police.

“Thirty years ago this evening I was driving up the A74 from Cockermouth in Cumbria, where I’d been working, to Lanark to visit friends,” Rory recollected.

“I stopped at the Gretna services to make a quick phone call, then carried on up the road. Something hit the roof of my van about a mile south of Lockerbie and the traffic quickly came to a standstill.

“There was smouldering debris on the road and verges, and I saw a series of explosions up ahead that shook the van.”

Rory said that as he was unsure of what had happened, he followed a right turn in front which several cars had taken.

It led through Lockerbie, which by then “appeared to be a huge inferno”.

“We were waved urgently through by the one or two police that had appeared and told to not stop, one of them said they thought a petrol station or tanker had blown up on the main road,” Rory continued.

“I got back on the A74 northbound at the next junction. The southbound carriageway was at a complete standstill for miles but there was no traffic heading north.

“Very quickly a succession of emergency vehicles, fire, police, ambulance after ambulance, green goddess’s and other military vehicles were heading south flat out on the northbound carriageway – at that point I knew something serious had happened.

“I was nearly at Abington when there was a news flash on the radio about a suspected plane crash near Lockerbie, and the rest, as we know, is history.”

Rory admits that he has always wondered what may have happened if he had not stopped to make that phone call at Gretna.

“I’d either have passed it before it happened, or – more than likely – been right in the middle of it, fate indeed,” he said.

“My heart goes out to all the families and friends of loved ones lost in the air and on the ground on that terrible night.”