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Angels Of The Sky – The Crew of Pan Am Flight 103

December 21, 1988 was a night that changed the aviation world forever. 

Pan Am Flight 103, a Boeing 747-121 (N739PA) had taken off from London Heathrow Airport at 18.25 with 243 passengers and 16 crew members onboard.

We all know the horrifying story of what happened next to ‘Clipper Maid of the Seas’ and the carnage the explosion brought to the small Scottish town of Lockerbie. 

But what is very often overlooked is the crew onboard the doomed jet. They were a diverse group, including seven Americans, two Frenchwomen and others from England, Germany, Spain, Sweden, Finland, the Dominican Republic and the Philippines.

Well educated and impeccably trained, they included an aspiring actress, a former Miss France, a painter and sculptor, a gourmet cook and a woman who dedicated her life to children’s charities. Brought together by their love of the skies and the prospect of a glamorous career with Pan American Airways, they all dreamed of seeing the world – but ultimately, they were united in death.

Despite their backgrounds, most of the Pan Am employees on the tiring – but highly sought-after – transatlantic route, had homes in either London or New York. On the evening of December 21, 1988, many were returning home to spend Christmas with their families, while others were planning some last-minute festive shopping in Manhattan.

The Senior Purser onboard Flight 103 was 51-year old Mary Geraldine Murphy from Twickenham, known by her friends as “Gerry”.

She had joined Pan Am in 1963 flying out of New York, San Francisco and Washington before becoming one of the founding members of the London Heathrow base in 1972.

Aside from her wealth of job knowledge and dedication to superior in-flight service, Mary was best known for her kind and unselfish ability to listen to others. Holding an honours degree in Grief Counselling, she earned a fellowship to study counselling and had recently graduated from the Open University of London with a degree in Social Psychology. 

A former Pan Am colleague, Robert Martin, said in a moving tribute that she had been a mentor, teacher and friend to the younger crew members, “Mary taught me everything there was to know about being a flight attendant. Always a smile, always a kind word and never failed with her British sense of humour as well.”

Milutin Velimirovich (centre) pictured with two other Pan Am flight attendants.

Milutin Velimirovich, 35, Purser on Flight 103, was born in Pisek, Czechoslovakia and immigrated to the United States with his parents in 1964 when he was eleven, becoming a U.S. citizen at the age of sixteen. Milutin had joined Pan Am in 1978, flying out of New York before joining the London base in 1984. He held a BA degree in International Relations and European History from the University of Rhode Island and had also studied in Austria. His main hobby was flying and he had hoped to one day become a pilot. Colleagues and passengers responded to his cheerfulness, energy and enthusiasm for the job. 

Milutin Velimirovich

Stacie Denise Franklin, 20, had joined Pan Am on April 12, 1988 from America West Airlines and worked for a short time in reservations. She was living in San Diego, California at the time of her death. Stacie grew up in the Phoenix area and graduated from Deer Valley High School in Glendale, Arizona. She brought tremendous knowledge and competence coupled with grace, sophistication and warmth to her profession. For those who knew her, or just met her along the way she had a ready smile to warm their heart. Pan Am colleague Robert Martin said “I also knew Stacie Franklin very well, and it broke my heart to lose two dear friends on that flight. To this day, I cannot look at pictures of what happened. I am still in shock after all these years.” She was the youngest crew member on the flight.

Another victim was Jocelyn “Kim” Reina, 26, who was in some ways the perfect example of a Pan Am stewardess. Born in Los Angeles, California on May 26, 1962, she was an academic high achiever; attending Cypress College, she majored in drama and took French language classes. Jocelyn made commercials for Fuji Film and Disneyland, but finding it hard to make a living acting in Los Angeles, became a cosmetologist. But she had yearned to work for America’s flagship airline since she was a little girl, eventually leading her to flying with Pan Am. Her career with the airline had begun in January 1988. Originally based at New York La Guardia she joined the London base in April 1988.

Jocelyn “Kim” Reina

Speaking from his home in Orange County, in the southern suburbs of Los Angeles, brother John says that Jocelyn, “died doing the job she loved”. “It’s an amazing story,” he says. “We have a tape recording from Jocelyn’s 10th birthday party. She was opening her presents and somebody asked her, ‘Now you’re all grown up, what job do you want to do?’ Without hesitation, she replied, ‘I want to be a stewardess for Pan Am.’ We had forgotten about that tape – it was just a passing moment in her life, but 16 years later she actually went and joined Pan Am. After the bombing we were going through her things and we found the tape. When we heard her little voice speaking to us from that party everybody just froze. It was an unbelievable moment.”

Jocelyn spent two years learning French in order to get the job, as all cabin crew had to be fluent in at least two languages. “She only ever wanted to work for Pan Am,” said her brother. “Everybody who worked for the airline regarded each other as family, and although Jocelyn had only been doing the job for just over a year when she died she absolutely loved it. She met a lot of wonderful people in England and she wanted to live in London. She also loved Scotland and visited there several times. It was a cruel irony that she died in the skies above Scotland.”

Myra Josephine Royal, 30 began her career with Pan Am in March 1988. She won the admiration of her co-workers with her enthusiasm for her job and her delightful sense of humour. One colleague said of her “Her concern for passengers is second to none and rubs off on other flight attendants”. She had a rare ability to lend a kind and sympathetic ear to people in any situation. 

Throughout her career, Siv Ulla Engstrom, 51, was actively involved in numerous charitable and fund-raising events. She was particularly dedicated to the ‘Save The Children Fund’ for which she organised the always anticipated annual Christmas fair at the London base. She has a wide range of intellectual interests and pursuits. She studied Chinese philosophy as well as classical music and the theatre. Siv also had a gift for languages and was fluent in Swedish, English, German, French and Spanish. She was kind and always ready to share her knowledge of her profession. Siv was a very spiritual person and would take anyone who needed her under her wing. She joined Pan Am in 1960 and was based in New York before becoming one of the charter members of the London base in 1972. 

Lilibeth Macalolooy, 27, was known to her friends as Lili. Born in the Philippines and fluent in Tagalog, she moved as a young girl to San Pedro, California with her family. A former make-up consultant and aerobics instructor, she began her flying career with Pan Am in 1985 and was based in New York, before joining the London base in 1986. Lili was the sweetheart of the London base and possessed an immediate likability to all those who met her. She was easy-going, warm and considerate. She truly enjoyed the camaraderie of her flying partners and always had a happy, positive and cheerful attitude which made her fun to fly with. A passenger once wrote to Pan Am and said “If one of your goals is striving for excellence among your employees, you’ve accomplished that goal in Lili. It’s because of her that I will fly Pan Am in the future”.

Lilibeth Macalolooy

Commencing his flying career with Pan Am in 1973, Paul Garrett was based in London until he transferred to San Francisco in 1978. He returned to London in February of 1988 and moved to Paris where he opened a fashion boutique. He received praise from both co-workers and passengers alike for his professionalism, poise and calm demeanour. “Flight attendant Paul Garrett, 41, had planned to open a boutique in Paris after 15 years with the airline. The terrible tragedy is that this was going to be his last flight,” said Jan MacMichael, a friend in Millbrae, California. Paul, 41, was also a gourmet cook, oil painter and free-form sculptor.

Paul Garrett

Irja Skabo, 38, was one of Pan Am’s more experienced stewardesses and she often worked in the first class cabin. A former international cross-country skier who acted as a ski instructor to disabled children in her spare time, she was planning to quit the airline to spend more time with her husband, Bjoern, and their seven-year-old son, Kevin. Irja joined Pan Am in 1972 and was based in Miami, Los Angeles, New York, and San Francisco before joining the London base in 1987.

Irja Skabo

“She was very glamorous but very down to earth,” says Jorgen Skabo, 62. “She took her younger sister, Ingerid, on flights all around the world when she was a child. That was fantastic for her. I remember she took me out to New York one time and we went out for dinner with all these high-society people, including an Olympic medal-winning speed skater. The way she died was awful. She was going to New York to buy Christmas presents. I was in Brussels and I was called in my motel by my youngest sister. I was able to watch it on the BBC. The family has never got over her death. My father was devastated. He never got over her murder and died eight years later.”

Another experienced crew member was Elke Etha Kuhne age 43, had flown with Pan Am for 18 years. She was based in Washington and New York before joining the London base in 1976. To all who came in contact with her, Elke truly represented the hallmark of professionalism. To quote a passenger, “It is only a person of such high calibre as Elke Kuhne that makes the cost of flying worthwhile.” Her character and quick wit won her many friends as well as respect. Elegant, always well-groomed, Elke smoked cigarettes with a long holder and garnered many letters of commendation from passengers during her career.

Elke Etha Kuhne

Maria ‘Nieves’ Larrachoecha, 39, loved to travel and used her free time and staff perks to explore the globe. Born in Bilbao, Spain she started her flying career with Pan Am in 1971 and was based in New York before joining the London base in 1978. She was a four-time recipient of the Clipper Ship – a flight attendant recognition award which was a tribute to her popularity with passenger and crew members alike. Nieves commuted from Madrid to London and flight 103 had offered her a convenient check-in time compatible with the flight schedules. 

Maria ‘Nieves’ Larrachoecha

Noëlle Berti-Campbell, 41, was a former ‘Miss France’ who possessed a quiet and unique understanding of people that easily gained the respect of everyone with whom she made contact. Born in Paris, her career with Pan Am began in 1970 and was based in Chicago and New York before joining the London base in 1975. 

Also onboard was Nichole Elizabeth Avoyne-Clemens, 44, known as “Babette”. She was described by colleagues as ‘a chic and charming Frenchwoman’. She had joined Pan Am in 1968 and was based in Miami, Seattle and Washington before becoming one of the founding members of the London base in 1972. She loved to travel and entertain at home and did so with much flair. She radiated sincerity when showing interest and care for people both professionally and privately. Babette was mother to a 5-year-old daughter, she married her childhood sweetheart, who, at the time of their marriage was a widower with two small children.

Nichole Elizabeth Avoyne-Clemens “Babette”

The final three members making up the crew that night were Captain James Bruce MacQuarrie 55, an experienced pilot with almost 11,000 flight hours, of which more than 4,000 had been accrued in 747 aircraft. First Officer Raymond Ronald Wagner, 52, had approximately 5,500 flight hours in the 747 and a total of almost 12,000 hours. Finally Flight Engineer Jerry Don Avritt, 46 who had more than 8,000 hours of flying experience. He had come to Pan Am through the 1980 merger with National Airlines. The cockpit crew was based at JFK.

Clockwise from left Captain James Bruce MacQuarrie, First Officer Raymond Ronald Wagner and Flight Engineer Jerry Don Avritt.

MacQuarrie, Wagner, Avritt, a flight attendant and several First Class passengers were found still strapped to their seats inside the nose section when it crashed in Tundergarth just outside of Lockerbie. The inquest heard that a flight attendant was found alive by a farmer’s wife, but died before her discoverer could summon help.

The explosion caused the deaths of 270 souls, 259 onboard the Jumbo Jet, plus 11 on the ground. Pan Am limped on for another 3 years before flying off in to the proverbial sunset on December 4, 1991. The bombing of Flight 103 had exacerbated the airlines already precarious situation, resulting in a negative name recognition and falling passenger numbers. 

The Air Disaster Memorial Window was Installed in the Lesser Hall at Lockerbie Town Hall, depicting the flags of all the nations who lost citizens in the disaster. The memorial was designed by John Clark of Glasgow and presented to the town by Scottish Metropolitan.

But the Pan Am memory lives on, along with the memory of the 16 crew members of Flight 103 – our ‘Angels of the Sky’

Much of the information for this article can be found via the following sites – clippercrew.com and ‘The untold story of Pan Am 103’s tragic cabin crew’

© confessionsofatrolleydolly.com by Dan Air

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About Confessions of a Trolley Dolly (84 Articles)
confessionsofatrolleydolly.com brought to you by International Gay Trolley Dolly, Dan Air ! Come & join us onboard as we take a peek behind the galley curtain with all your cabin crew & aviation news, galley gossip, glamour & humerous tales of life at 39,000 feet!

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