Pan Am Flight 103, Lockerbie

Twenty years ago today I was working in my second ever job, as a tape operator at Channel 9 Sydney. Part of my job was to record satellite feeds from overseas, usually sporting events or breaking news.

I don’t remember what time it was, but I remember that I was distracted just after the feed started, so it took a while before I was able to get back to the machine and quality check the signal, and what I saw was the stuff of nightmares. The cameraman (I’m guessing it was a man, it was the eighties!) had time to walk from the vehicle into the centre of the disaster area, and was surrounded by the smouldering wreckage of a few hundred lives. I can’t think what he thought he was recording, or why, but I saw panoramas and close-ups of things that nobody should have to look at.

And I couldn’t look away. mostly because I was in shock, but also because I was young, and I didn’t yet have the strength to stand up for myself. It was my job, so I did it.

And I didn’t think it affected me. I didn’t complain about the nightmares, I blithely carried on, and ignored my involuntary flinches when I saw an aeroplane overhead.

Until the next time I got on a plane, I thought I was fine. I felt a vague sense of unease as I stowed my hand luggage in the overhead compartment, I was a little shaky as I fastened my seatbelt. But when the plane began to move I clutched the arm of the man in the seat next to me, and clung on for dear life until the plane had levelled off. Only then was I able to explain, and apologise (profusely), that I had never been afraid of flying before, that I had flown regularly since I was a little kid, that I had sometimes thrown up, but never been so terrified that I molested complete strangers.

So now I try to fly with friends and loved ones, people who hold my hand and understand that you can’t control that sort of blind terror, and that I have my reasons.

Hard to believe that it was two decades ago, and I’ve never looked at a plane the same way since.

Pan Am Flight 103, Lockerbie

Last week, Kris was surprised to hear that I’ve had so many jobs that I know my tax file number by heart. Here are a few snippets of what I remember from 9.

The job went around the clock, and the shifts were from midnight till 7am, 7am till 3.30pm, 3.30pm till midnight. The work room was a long corridor with VHS, Beta, 3/4″ and 2″ tape machines lining the walls. There were over 50 monitors, and I had to know what was going on on each of them. To this day I like to read a book with the radio and the TV on at the same time.

We recorded what was going to air so that there was a constant record – sometimes we were asked to prove that a certain commercial went to air at a certain time. Sometimes we would be asked to compile snippets of library tape for an editor – once I spent an entire shift dubbing truck smashes from the Hume Highway. Of course, this was footage taken at the scene, raw, unedited for broadcast, so we got all the gory detail. Ask me why I hate driving the Hume! We would record live programming, often so that the presenters could review the show after it aired. Every night we recorded a few copies of “Coast to Coast with Graham Kennedy”, and usually I would drop the tape at reception for him. If it was a busy night, and I couldn’t get to reception, his makeup artist would pick it up. And often, the co-host, John Mangos would collect it. Twenty years later, I still remember how alarmingly smooth and charming he is. If you ever get a chance to chat with him, you’ll know what I mean.

During down time I would wander down to the studios and help heave sets around. I made friends with the studio crew from MTV and used to go out partying with them after the show. It was Sydney in the ’80’s, but it felt like New York …

6 thoughts on “Pan Am Flight 103, Lockerbie”

  1. hi lara,
    couldn’t believe it is 20 years ago, now. 20 years and when i saw the pictures again it goes cold around my bag…for me this was the start of this aircraft-terror. it was the start to focus this possibility to die…
    but i put this cruel feelings away, don’t know, how this works. (ok, flying with 3 children takes all thinkings away, you are totally in work while flying ;D )
    best wishes and merry chrismas, and of course, a happy new year from germany, Eva
    p.s. in life before having 3 children i was a cutter! isn’t that funny. but i cut only advertising spots, no news. this was the worst for me, news cutting, pua!


  2. I was never afraid of flying until I was on a plane that kept flying into turbulence. I’ve been afraid of flying for a few years but the fear has abated since I read a chapter on plane crashes (whilst on a plane from east to west coast) in The Outliers.
    On the upside if you have a fear of flying, you can tell the airlines at check-in and they will upgrade you to business class if they can because they can keep an eye on you there. also less people around to freak out. I nearly made it there once except I was travelling with husband who said, “we’d like to sit together”. *sigh*


    1. Great tip! I usually ask for a door seat because I am tall, but since I got fat they don’t seem to believe that I am tall (funny, but true!). Will try the hyperventilating next time šŸ™‚


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