The Monster of Newcastleton Forest

PI/911 and its Mixed Clues
May 2 2010

last edits 1 September

Among the interesting artifacts of the Pan Am 103 crash strewn across southern Scotland, is a particular large fragment of suitcase presumed to be from the bomb bag. Its police label PI/911 designates when and where it was found, roughly; “P” means property (evidence) and “I” designates the search sector it was found in. These were lettered A-K, generally west-to east with sectors A, B and C in Lockerbie itself, and K up to the North Sea. I sector, where most suitcase debris was found, was centered on and around Newcastelton Forest. The numbers after are sequential, so PI/911 is ostensibly the 911th item found in that area.

Like the dozens of other primary suitcase pieces recovered and examined by Dr. Thomas Hayes of RARDE, it matched the construction of the control sample, a Samsonite Silhouette 4000 series hardshell case, antique copper in color. Hayes read back from his final report (Production 181) at trial in 2000. PI/911 was the first item described in the report, and he concluded in part:
“This is a distorted and severely heat-affected irregularly shaped fragment of rigid plastics sheet. When examined, it was found to have a twin plastics layer construction [...] with a thickness of 2.5 millimetres. It consisted of an outer skin of bronze-coloured plastics with a simulated leather patterned finish covering a thicker underlayer of grey plastics having a smooth finish.”
The main distinction of this fragment is its size; the largest found at “approximately 280 millimetres by 260 millimetres,” or about 10.5 by 11 inches. That’s nearly one fourth of a whole side of the 22x26x9 inch case. Just from the size one might wonder if this even could be from the primary suitcase, no more than a few inches from a Semtex blast of probably more than 500 grams power.
PI/911 shape traced off of a Corbis photo (that's probably not allowed either). Sized to scale rel to the control case. That's a big old chunk and, as that photo shows, it's not the only one.

Other clues strengthen the impression; Hayes also noted “the smooth inner surface was lined in one area with the partially charred remains of a brown woven fabric which had a cream-coloured thin reticulated plastics foam underlay.” A nanosecond later, two feet away, the weakened blast was removing airplane skin from its rivets. The Crown’s Mr. Campbell, to his credit, turned to Dr. Hayes’ earlier examination notes (Production 1497) and revealed further doubts this was the primary case.
Q …were these written by you as you carried out your examinations?
A Yes, they were, sir.
Q And we see that you have made notes and made a sketch of the item.
A Yes, sir.
Q And was that the way in which you generally approached the exercise?
A Yes, it was, sir.
Q And we see a date at the top right-hand, which is 21 -- 26, rather -- 1/89?
A Yes, sir.
Q And this is a note of your examination of PI/911. And could I draw your attention to the writing that we see to the right-hand side of the drawing, where you describe the article as: "A severely distorted irregular-shaped sheet of rigid plastics," and go on to say: "Apparently the lower side of a suitcase, compressed and fractured in a manner suggesting it was in contact with a luggage pallet's base and subjected to explosive forces from above."
Now, is that an observation that you made when you were examining this article in January of1989?
A Yes, it was, sir.
Q And was that at quite an early stage in the course of examining articles?
A Yes, it was.
This is an amazing insight. Elsewhere we’ve learned, from official findings that this blogger agrees with, that the primary case was not in contact with the base but laid flat on another flat-laid case in contact with and protecting the floor, putting the blast center around ten inches up. There is also reason to wonder about two suitcases of about the primary style, reported by John Bedford very near that corner of the container. If these had been stacked up one such case could have detonated while the other shielded the floor.

And here’s lead scientist Hayes suspecting this one was in contact with the floor and had a blast above it. Mr. Campbell further questioned Hayes on his reasoning for this:
Q What was it about the item that suggested to you that it was in contact with the luggage pallet's base and subjected to explosive forces from above?
A On the assumption that it might have been part of the suitcase containing a bomb, firstly the residual size of the fragment, which is quite large, and also the fact it appeared to have been supported in some substantial way by a relatively immoveable surface.
The wording is a little ambiguous – if we read that as starting "on questioning the assumption..." it makes more sense and fits with my own thoughts. Otherwise, much here is lining up; other large chunks of ten inches or more on a side, and a 20-inch uninterrupted span of lining material (more coming), suggest one whole side of a suitcase just like the bomb bag broke up very unlike how the bomb bag would. Almost as if there were two bag of the same type, one on the floor and another with a bomb on top of it.

But Hayes had one other clue, in the final report if not his exam notes, that changes all of that:
“Small flecks of a blue foamed plastics material with a cross-hatch-patterned blue plastics skin were found strongly adhering to the simulated leather surface. This finding indicates that at the moment of detonation of the explosive device, this bronze suitcase was in direct contact with one containing a foamed blue plastics material. The items recovered from PI/911 were removed and raised collectively as item PT/42. “
Blue foamed plastic pressed into copper-brown material should have been readily visible to Dr. Hayes, and a tip-off that side of PI/911 wasn’t in contact with the aluminum container base. Therefore, his January decision is curious, unless the blue stuff only appeared later. Now that it’s there, this must be the bomb bag, matching its style, and on the second level up from the floor after all, above a blue case says Hayes… He explained away the discrepancy to Mr. Campbell
Q If you assume that the -- this suitcase was not on the floor of the pallet but was on the next level up -- that is to say, on top of other luggage -- are you able to explain what you see here on that basis?
A Yes, I am. Quite satisfactorily, to my own mind.
Q How would you do that?
A By considering that if a suitcase had resided beneath this one, then the surface of that suitcase, whether of a soft material or a hardshell material, could have similarly acted as a relatively immoveable surface if it, in turn, had been supported beneath, and in view of the tremendous speed of the detonation shock front.
A solid suitcase behaving enough like a floor to mimic this effect is, indeed, credible - if not obvious or necessarily true. The size of a fragment in turn could be affected by the flexibility of its support. But a soft case is unlikely to hold up like a metal floor, and all this still fails to explain the survival of so much inner lining of the case. Nor does anything yet revealed explain away the two bags Bedford saw on 'level one' of container 4041; they had to go somewhere, and these two Samsonites, on levels one and two of the container, had to come from somewhere.
---
Updates, 1 Sept: PT/42 was given above as "small flecks of a blue foamed plastics material with a cross-hatch-patterned blue plastics skin." I checked in the final report (signed by both Hayes and Feraday) for PT/42, the number given to all debris removed from PI/911. Strangely, PT/42(a) is described as a singular "fragment of black plastics sheet bearing a diamond-shaped embossed pattern on one face.” This type of fragment, of which there are several, is distinct from the very few pieces of soft blue outer plastic or foam underlay. While it is “similar to that present on the fragment(s) of American Touristster suitcase,” and is duly listed as a fragment of it (the only one listed from PI/911), the discrepancy between several pieces of blue materials and a single black fragment is notable.

Below for visualization purposes is what I see as RARDE's version vs. my own proposal. The American Tourister was in contact with the bomb bag, but above it. Below was its mate in Bedford's recollection, of which PI/911 is the largest known remnant. It just seems too big to be from the primary case.
21 September: I tried a scaled image comparison - PI/911 within the most likely lower-case placement, and damage to AVE 4041's floor. The placement could vary - I'm also working with other large fragments on the hunch they might all be from the same lower side of the lower case, the chunks that shielded the floor from gas pitting. Do note the size of this supposed primary case fragments is consistent with the flaps of metal torn through just after the lower case. 
 

11 comments:

Eddie said...

Moving this excellent post on, here is a photo of the debris recovered from the 'Primary Suitcase', including PI/911 -

"http://www.corbisimages.com/Enlargement/Enlargement.aspx?id=UT0063808&caller=search"

The official version of events would have us believe there were 3 similar coloured Samsonite suitcases contained within AVE4041; the 2 loaded by Kamjob and spotted by Bedford, which were then moved inside the container on the arrival of the 3rd Samonsite from Frankfurt(via Malta). We have the remnants of one Maroon/Bronze suitcase. The one from Frankfurt and containing the bomb.

However, that still leaves us with the other two Samsonite's observed by Bedford. Where are these two suitcases, even perhaps remnants, that Bedford and Kamjob saw in the same container going onto 103 at Heathrow? And who did they belong to?

Caustic Logic said...

Thanks, Eddie! Can you believe I've seen that pic but thought it was clothing? Now knowing the labels, I can see this is the photo 49 that Hayes referred to in court. PI/911 is in the upper left. At the moment, Corbis' version is down. Another is available at:
http://www.panamair.org/accidents/lockerbie/suitcase.jpg

Will see about securing a large res version, and wil consider the rest of your points...

Caustic Logic said...

Thanks again for the tip on that photo. That's an awesome help. See the updated graphic.

The official version of events would have us believe there were 3 similar coloured Samsonite suitcases contained within AVE4041; the 2 loaded by Kamjob and spotted by Bedford, which were then moved inside the container on the arrival of the 3rd Samonsite from Frankfurt(via Malta). We have the remnants of one Maroon/Bronze suitcase. The one from Frankfurt and containing the bomb.

That's a nice summation I can't disagree with. Officially that's all accepted. But really, if anyone had done anything unusual prior to the bombing, and I think someone did, minds and words become a little suspect. So ultimately we have "Bedford says" and "Kamboj says..."

That could leave us hopelessly confused, but so could accepting wrong words, so uncertainly we proceed.

However, that still leaves us with the other two Samsonite's observed by Bedford. Where are these two suitcases, even perhaps remnants, that Bedford and Kamjob saw in the same container going onto 103 at Heathrow? And who did they belong to?

Where indeed. Into the gap provided by the benefit of the doubt? I've not yet seen them explained in any clear way. No reconciliation with a passenger has been cited, no cases at all matching the description except in bits.

I was wondering if there were too many bits to be from one suitcase, admittedly grasping a bit for clues. But that photo, of all sizeable fragments, is clearly less than one case. If my theory is correct, unless they're hiding more. the primary case must have all bust vanished and even the upper half and half of the lower half of the other one.

Rolfe said...

Ah, this is perhaps the place to move my speculations about the positioning of the primary suitcase.

Adam, can you explain why you accept the thesis that the primary suitcase wasn't on the bottom layer all along? Because I have to say, I'm not convinced.

Note that in late January 1989, Hayes was speculating that the thing was on the bottom. By this time I assume they had the details of the condition of the container itself, and in fact I do not believe this was inconsistent with that possibility. There is the absence of pitting on the floor of the container that was noted, however I can't see any great reason why the primary suitcase itself couldn't have shielded the floor. Indeed, I think that's what Hayes originally assumed, and that the large piece of intact suitcase was part of that effect.

Then there's the estimated height of the explosion. Ten inches from the floor, while the primary suitcase was only nine inches deep. This would put the explosion at the bottom of the suitcase on the next layer. (As an aside, do we know how deep the American Tourister was?) However, I'm not convinced. How exact is it really possible to be in this respect? Does the nominal height of ten inches really exclude the bottom layer, definitely? Is it possible that ten inches was the highest it was possible to stretch the evidence, when it was realised that positioning the primary suitcase on the bottom layer was seriously undesirable because that would imply a Heathrow introduction?

As far as I can make out, the initial assertions that Heathrow was in the clear were based purely on the identification of AVE4041 as the container where the blast had happened. That was the container with the Frankfurt luggage in it, phew! Rush out the press release saying that the bomb was almost certainly not introduced at Heathrow.

Then on 3rd January Bedford's routine statement to the Met reports not only was the container not filled from empty by Frankfurt luggage, but a couple of mysterious suitcases appeared in it which might conceivably not have gone through the proper security procedures. And at least one of them seems to have been a brown Samsonite.

I don't know how long it would have been before the investigation became aware of that statement and its implications, but when they did, holy damn! Here's Hayes busy doing forensics that come to the conclusion that the bomb suitcase was a bronze Samsonite laid flat on the floor of the container, and here's Bedford saying he saw a brown Samsonite in exactly that position, at Heathrow, half an hour before the flight from Frankfurt landed.

Oh hell and damnation.

Rolfe said...

.... contd ....

So what to do? Bite the bullet and start investigating Heathrow as the point of introduction, or leap into cover-your backside mode? I'd like to believe that British cops would do the former, but the evidence is against it. They'd started off on the assumption that bomb suitcase must have come in on PA103A, and I think they were damned if they were going to go back on that highly convenient assumption.

So, we note the basence of pitting on the floor of the container. That allows us to postulate an intervening suitcase. Good. (It doesn't seem to have suggested that to Hayes in late January, but never mind.) How high can we possibly squeeze the data as regards the vertical position of the explosion? Ten inches? That'll do it, if only just. So, we can carry on shoving the blame across the channel to Frankfurt, where they're busy with their own cover-your-backside operation for their own reasons.

While I certainly don't discount the possibility of the case being on the second layer, I think it could actually be as simple as that. The terrorist got into the interline shed with the suitcase, put it exactly where he wanted it, put another case (exactly what that other case was and where it came from is another discussion) beside it to guard against the possibility of someone sliding the bomb to the inboard side of the container, and it was never moved again.

Rolfe said...

Adam, you imply that it was the condition of the blue Tourister which was the main factor in Hayes changing his mind about which layer the primary suitcase was in. However, you don't put a date on that. In fact I think the positioning was moved away from the bottom layer well before the Tourister was placed under it.

At the FAI in 1990-91 the position of the investigation was that the bags Bedford saw had not been moved. Thus, by presenting the evidence to show the primary suitcase was on the second layer, a Heathrow loading could be ruled out on that basis, as there was no suitcase on the second layer when Bedford saw the container.

If it had been figured out at that time (and we're talking two years into the investigation by then) that the Tourister was under the bomb bag, there's absolutely no reason why they shouldn't just have said so. It would have meant that the Bedford bags must have been moved, but that wouldn't really have mattered in that context. Indeed, it would have strengthened the (entirely spurious) assertion that the bomb bag was in among the Frankfurt interline luggage, by putting an interline bag below it.

But that's not what was put to the FAI. The FAI was led to assume that the Bedford bags were left undisturbed, and the bomb bag was then placed directly on top of one of these. The whole tale about the Tourister was purely a Zeist production, whenever it originated.

It seems to me that when the forensic evidence was looked at with a view to presenting the case at Zeist, it was realised that the FAI finding was untenable. While somehow the FAI managed to overlook the fact that at least one of the Bedford bags was a brown Samsonite which was never recovered as an innocent piece of luggage, that wasn't going to last under defence scrutiny. If a brown Samsonite suitcase had been under the primary suitcase, er, where were the bits? The inability of the prosecution to produce any evidence of an innocent brown Samsonite to exonerate the case Bedford saw would almost certainly lead to the conclusion that the Bedford suitcase could have been the bomb bag.

The only thing they could possibly do was to move that inconvenient sighting of Bedford's as far away from the firing line as possible, and the only way they could do that was to find another case, one of the Frankfurt cases, and put that below the bomb suitcase. The blue Tourister, which I agree was probably on top of the bomb bag, was the chosen candidate. I think this theory was entirely pragmatic, to continue the misdirection away from the Bedford cases and to support the Malta introduction, and I don't think it was dreamed up until some time after 1991.

Rolfe said...

And you know what? It shouldn't have worked.

It's BLOODY OBVIOUS that a Heathrow introduction was a possibility, and that this possibility should have been investigated, even if only to rule it out properly. How many bags were in AVE 4041 before PA103A arrived? Not many. But we don't even know the exact number. The lowest estimate is six, the highest about ten, both including Bedford's two mystery bags.

Who did they belong to? Not hard to find out. If they were all legit, then they belonged to passengers who interlined into Heathrow and joined PA103 there. How many such passengers were there? Don't even seem to have that information exactly.

The fact is that it would have been simplicity itself to have found out which of the passengers joining at Heathrow had come in on a flight from another airport, and then to have found out which of these had their luggage checked through to the USA as interline baggage. We know the names and number of bags and business of every one of the passengers on KM180, with 55 bags all told. But we don't know the owners of less than a dozen bags in that crucial container at Heathrow. Oh dear.

We should know whose luggage was in the container when Bedford saw it, and of that luggage, what was and wasn't recovered at Lockerbie. It's a no-brainer! If we knew that, we could discover whether or not the two cases Bedford saw lying flat could be matched with a passenger or not. Was all the Heathrow interline luggage recovered? If so, was any of it a brown Samsonite or something looking like a brown Samsonite? Or did anyone's luggage vanish utterly, and if so, is it possible that was a brown Samsonite?

All this should have been gone into at the FAI, never mind at Zeist. How many brown Samsonites were there, and what became of them? Nobody is telling us. Why might that be, do we suppose?

The nearest we come to this is in the findings of the FAI. There, the crucial fact that at least one of the cases Bedford saw was a brown Samsonite was somehow buried, even though his statement was given in evidence and he was cross-examined. The sheriff seemed to think he was dealing with only one brown Samsonite, the actual bomb bag.

He was trying to show that the bomb bag came off PA103A. And in the course of doing that, he made a very interesting observation. He observed that none of the interline passengers had had a brown Samsonite, and no family members of the interline passengers had reported their loved one as having had a brown Samsonite that wasn't recovered.

In his view, this simply underlined the fact that the bomb bag came off PA103A and wasn't part of the interline luggage. But put that finding (which wasn't mentioned at Zeist) up beside Bedford's description of the case(s) he saw, and you get an entirely different conclusion.

It's completely ridiculous that we don't have a complete record of the Heathrow interline passengers and the luggage they were carrying, to enlighten the discussion about Bedford's evidence. Why not? Didn't the defence think this point was worth pursuing? I think they should have been after it like a pack of terriers, but no sign of that.

Caustic Logic said...

Sorry, time crush today too. Rolfe:

Blast height: As you noted, ten inches up is low enough that, with some fudging, it could be in the lower case. Agreed. Thhat's at the very bottom of the upper one or so, if 9" cases were used. I've reasoned out elsewhere why 10" as dogma is no good.
http://lockerbiedivide.blogspot.com/2010/07/container-geometry-and-blast-location.html
The reasoning seems to be based on level with the hole in the container over, but really that only implies a small range of a few inches. So was it likely lower or higher?

The other part of it is the container floor, with most of the suitcase span apparently protected - no pitting. I suppose it's possible the bomb suitcase's own material could do that, but I don't think it's likely. The material came apart, and there'd be pitting at least along the crack lines, if the blast had nothing else between. Looks to me more like a weakened blast that had burst its own case and passed through another. At two feet it was tearing off airplane skin, so full luggage insulation is all I can see protecting the similar material just ten or so inches away. I believe the force drops exponentially with distance.

Otherwise, I wondered about floor-metal-swapping, but that'd be pretty good work. It looks legit to me, not going there.

So my guess on height is second level, probably around 12 inches up.

Now, did Hayes feel this was the bomb bag? I admit the wording is ambiguous enough that's possible - after all, it was the fragment, not the case, that he said experienced "explosive forces from above." But he did, on questoning, raise the issue of primariness, and the whole base thing...

But being only January, I'm not sure whether the second-layer notion was decided and disseminated, whether Hayes knew of it or not. Uncertain point.

I don't know the depth of the Am.Tour. Only that iits long dimension is 29".

Caustic Logic said...

Note: There are a ton of comments by Rolfe and myself more relevant here but too cumbersome to move, readable below this post:
http://lockerbiedivide.blogspot.com/2010/01/evidence-reconsidered-ied-fragment.html

Cindy said...

How to turn your residual income stream into a raging river. Click www.gofastek.com for more information.

Cindy
www.gofastek.com

Lee Shin said...

spot on with this write-up, i like the way you discuss the things. i'm impressed, i must say. i'll probably be back again to read more. thanks for sharing this with us.

Lee Shin
www.trendone.net