The man who missed Pan Am 103

Twenty years ago this year Pan Am flight 103 exploded in mid-air, killing everyone on board and raining deadly debris down on the southern Scottish town of Lockerbie.

270 people died in the worst act of terrorism ever committed in Britain. But, save for a few too many drinks and an overly enthusiastic family send-off, the toll would have been 271. 

Jaswant Basuta had checked into Heathrow Airport on December 21, 1988, to board Pan Am flight 103 to New York. He was returning home after attending a wedding in Belfast, and was looking forward to getting back and starting a new job.

As he had checked in early, expecting the usual Christmas rush, family who had come to see him off suggested that they go to the bar.

Trouble was, he kept being plied with friendly drinks from enthusiastic family members keen to give him a good send off.

“When his glass is empty, make sure you pour him another,” his brother-in-law said to the barman. The barman duly obliged. BBC 

Eventually, time flew and Jaswant realised he was running a little late. Despite barrelling to the gate as fast (and, no doubt, as wobbly) as he could, he just missed last call and found the staff clearing up. Despite heated pleas, he gave up and settled in for a night in the lounge, wondering how he would explain to his wife.

After a couple of dozy hours, things went from bad to worse. Across the hall Jaswant saw two policemen walking purposefully towards him. “Are you the passenger who missed the Pan Am flight?”

Confused, he was bundled away. The police station at Heathrow airport is not a friendly place if you’re just suspected of having caused Britain’s worst terrorist attack. BBC

Although he wasn’t aware of it, Pan Am 103 had exploded 38 minutes into the flight. There had been an smiliar attack by Sikh terrosists three years before, and the police were naturally suspicious of the coincidence of the plane being downed and Jaswant, a Sikh who had arrived in Britain only a few days earlier, sitting in the lounge whilst his baggage was on the plane.

Thankfully, after a short time and after the police spoke to his wife in New York – who was distraught and assumed that Jaswant had been killed along with everyone else on the flight – it became clear that Jaswant was not a terrorist, and was in fact just a very, very lucky man. It took a while for Jaswant’s wife, Surinder, to understand what she was being told, but when it clicked, the tears only increased.

“It was the happiest moment of my life,” says Jaswant, now 67, with tears welling up in his eyes. “We cried and cried and cried.”

It proved to be a turning point of his life.

“Why me? Why was I saved? I should have been the 271st victim and I still feel terrible for all the other people who died.”

Even now, nearly 20 years on, the experience continues to have a profound effect on this life. He has become a more humble and spiritual person.

“I keep thinking why did God have mercy on me? I hadn’t even been very religious up until that point in my life. God gave me a second chance.” BBC

Sometimes, for reasons we can’t explain, luck, fate, God, destiny, call it what you will, seems to help us out from behind the scenes, deus ex machina. When it does, it is the most wonderful thing. But it always leaves one question:

Why? 

Read the original BBC News story here

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One Comment

  1. Posted September 19, 2014 at 2:26 am | Permalink | Reply

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