Degree Type

Honors Capstone Project

Date of Submission

Spring 5-1-2009

Capstone Advisor

Joan Deppa

Honors Reader

Charlotte Grimes

Capstone Major

Broadcast and Digital Journalism

Capstone College

Public Communications

Audio/Visual Component


Capstone Prize Winner


Won Capstone Funding


Honors Categories


Subject Categories

Broadcast and Video Studies | Journalism Studies


Twenty years ago, on December 21, 1988, a bomb exploded aboard flight Pan Am 103. The plane crashed intoLockerbie,Scotland, killing 270 people on board and on the ground. Among those lost were 35SyracuseUniversitystudents coming back from a semester abroad inLondon.

This documentary uses interviews with about 40 professors and former students to tell the story of Pan Am 103. These people were reunited on campus during Remembrance Week 2008. This project explores the mistakes that were made and lessons that have been learned. The research is supplemented by interviews with current faculty and staff members. These people have researched and reflected upon the crash and events that unfolded afterward.

The Pan Am 103 tragedy set unfortunate precedents at the university, in the country and with the press in how to deal with massive tragedies. Large scale acts of terrorism against American citizens were not experienced at the time. There were little, or no, emergency plans in place.

The crash revealed many flaws in air-travel security; gaps in communication among airlines, the government, the press and the families of the dead and unseen connections between American foreign policy and modern terrorism.

Communications among Pan Am, the press and theUnited Statesgovernment were not strong. Information was not released promptly. FromKennedyInternationalAirport, where Pan Am 103 was scheduled to land, toSyracuseUniversityand Lockerbie, journalists were desperate for information. Deadlines and pressure from management drove some journalists to deal with victims’ families insensitively.

SyracuseUniversitywas also scrambling to deal with the disaster. But it had no clear emergency response plan in place. Information was hard for the university to find and release. It was forced to create an emergency plan on the go. Students, faculty and staff members fell through the cracks. Now, students who did make it back fromLondonin 1988 express feelings of being forgotten back on campus.

This documentary reveals that practical and emotional lessons have been learned. Others are still in progress.

The Pan Am 103 crash brought about improvements in airline security. It showed universities and other institutions the importance of emergency planning. In most cases, communication between the government and press has improved. Press coverage of tragedies has also seen progress. But there is still room for growth, especially when it comes to foreign relations. And for those who lived through Pan Am 103, the emotional lessons are ongoing.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.



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