Previously unseen photos from Lockerbie taken by a man haunted by the sight of a young woman’s body

The image of a young dark-haired woman, dressed in a blue sweater and lying face down on his garden hedge, is one that for Peter Giesecke not even 30 years can diminish.

Minutes before his torch beam drew his startled gaze to her lifeless figure in the darkness outside, he had been watching Michael Aspel’s This is Your Life on television, when a deep rumbling sound had drawn him to the window.

Unaware of the hell about to unleash itself on the town of Lockerbie, Dumfriesshire, on 21 December 1988, he watched perplexed as a bright light – the broken remains of Pan Am Flight 103 – fell from the sky.

Narrow escape: Pter Giesecke's home (left) lost its windows but he says his photo reveals 'how close we had come to being wiped out' on December 21 1988

Narrow escape: Pter Giesecke's home (left) lost its windows but he says his photo reveals 'how close we had come to being wiped out' on December 21 1988

Narrow escape: Pter Giesecke’s home (left) lost its windows but he says his photo reveals ‘how close we had come to being wiped out’ on December 21 1988

The aircraft had taken off just half an hour earlier from London Heathrow and was on its way to New York with 243 passengers and 16 crew on board, when a Semtex bomb hidden in a suitcase detonated at 31,000 feet. 

The aircraft had taken off just half an hour earlier from London Heathrow and was on its way to New York with 243 passengers and 16 crew on board, when a Semtex bomb hidden in a suitcase detonated at 31,000 feet.

By 7.03pm, a deadly combination of mangled fuselage and burning aviation fuel had rained down upon the town of Lockerbie with lethal force, with the ensuing fireball incinerating homes in the town’s Sherwood Crescent and, with it, 11 residents.

Meanwhile, the bodies of the tragic passengers on board the doomed flight and their personal belongings were scattered on residential streets, surrounding gardens and the countryside around.

Victim: Student Lindsey Otenasek, from Syracuse University in New York, wanted to teach children

Victim: Student Lindsey Otenasek, from Syracuse University in New York, wanted to teach children

Victim: Student Lindsey Otenasek, from Syracuse University in New York, wanted to teach children

But for Mr Giesecke, now 65, the discovery that night of one of those lost souls – Lindsey Otenasek, the 21-year-old Syracuse University student who landed on his hedge in the back garden – forged an unbreakable bond of friendship with her family in the United States. 

To this day, Lindsey’s mother, Peggy, 85, still cherishes two small pebbles from Mr Giesecke’s garden she took as a permanent reminder of the spot where her daughter – the youngest of her six children – was found, and of the Scottish town which treated her and other victims with such kindness and respect.

Last night, Mr Giesecke recalled the moment the families met for the first time, saying: ‘About a year after the bombing, I remember working in my garden when I saw a couple standing uncertainly on the pavement outside my gate. 

The woman looked at me and said ‘I believe my daughter Lindsey was found in your garden.’

‘We’d been used to families visiting in the streets around in similar circumstances and so their visit wasn’t really unexpected. I’d never learned the identity of the girl on my hedge but I’d never forgotten her.’

He added: ‘The garden and the area had all been cleaned up by then. The hedge was gone and there were fresh pebbles down. I showed her exactly where I’d found her and she was very grateful I could explain what happened that night. 

Lives in ruins: A police officer looks over the rubble from houses destroyed in the disaster where all 243 passengers and 16 crew members on board were killed

Lives in ruins: A police officer looks over the rubble from houses destroyed in the disaster where all 243 passengers and 16 crew members on board were killed

Lives in ruins: A police officer looks over the rubble from houses destroyed in the disaster where all 243 passengers and 16 crew members on board were killed

Aftermath: A crater in the town, filled with the wreckage from a deadly combination of mangled fuselage and burned aviation fuel that rained down upon Lockerbie with lethal force

Aftermath: A crater in the town, filled with the wreckage from a deadly combination of mangled fuselage and burned aviation fuel that rained down upon Lockerbie with lethal force

Aftermath: A crater in the town, filled with the wreckage from a deadly combination of mangled fuselage and burned aviation fuel that rained down upon Lockerbie with lethal force

Debris: Large sections of the aircraft littered the streets of Lockerbie as seen in this photo taken by Mr Giesecke after the disaster

Debris: Large sections of the aircraft littered the streets of Lockerbie as seen in this photo taken by Mr Giesecke after the disaster

Debris: Large sections of the aircraft littered the streets of Lockerbie as seen in this photo taken by Mr Giesecke after the disaster

I felt tearful as Peggy picked up one and I remember telling her: ‘You take that home and keep that in memory of Lindsey.’

‘We still keep in contact at Christmas time and send cards and flowers. Now that my own daughter is 21 too, it makes me realise even more what she lost that night. It’s devastating.’

Forty-six seconds after the bomb on Pan Am Flight 103 detonated, the aircraft’s wings hit Sherwood Crescent, close to Mr Giesecke’s Park Place home, at 500mph, disintegrating on impact and leaving a crater 150ft long and 30ft deep. 

Witness: Peter Giesecke with debris from aircraft 'Clipper Maid of the Seas' that had taken off half an hour earlier from London Heathrow

Witness: Peter Giesecke with debris from aircraft 'Clipper Maid of the Seas' that had taken off half an hour earlier from London Heathrow

Witness: Peter Giesecke with debris from aircraft ‘Clipper Maid of the Seas’ that had taken off half an hour earlier from London Heathrow

Just over the fence, in Rosebank Crescent, a large chunk of the fuselage also took out whole sides of properties.

Previously unseen photographs, taken by Mr Giesecke the morning after the incident and published today in the Scottish Mail on Sunday, show the extent of the destruction to the quiet neighbourhood in which he still lives on the eastern edge of the town.

He said: ‘We’d all had to evacuate our homes because it was too dangerous to stay there, but I’d gone back the next day to get some bits and pieces. That’s when I picked up my camera and decided to take some photographs of the horror around me. 

When I saw the crater where my neighbours’ houses had been, the damage to homes next to mine and the debris all around, it finally hit me how close we had come to being wiped out ourselves.’

Mr Giesecke, who had just put his children to bed before the atrocity, recalled: ‘As the fuselage hit the streets around, the windows at the back of our house blew in, the lights went out and we were in darkness. The children came down the stairs screaming. There was glass and debris all over the place, as well as a strong smell of aviation fuel.

‘So I got a torch and I shone the torch outside. There were bodies all over the place. But forever on my mind is Lindsey, although I didn’t learn her name until much later. She was lying on my hedge face down. She was wearing a blue top, a sweater.’

The remains of more than 60 people were eventually removed from his small corner of the town.

Devastation: Debris from homes and the aircraft strewn across gardens where the bodies of passengers on board the doomed flight and their belongings were scattered on residential streets and the surrounding countryside

Devastation: Debris from homes and the aircraft strewn across gardens where the bodies of passengers on board the doomed flight and their belongings were scattered on residential streets and the surrounding countryside

Devastation: Debris from homes and the aircraft strewn across gardens where the bodies of passengers on board the doomed flight and their belongings were scattered on residential streets and the surrounding countryside

During the months that followed the bombing, relatives of the Pan Am passengers arrived in Lockerbie, seeking comfort and answers about the deaths of their loved ones.

 Among them were Lindsey’s parents, Richard, an eminent neurosurgeon, and his wife, Peggy, from Baltimore, Maryland.

Yesterday, speaking from her home in Baltimore, Mrs Otenasek said: ‘I will never forget meeting Peter because my darling daughter was found in his garden. 

Town’s series of tributes to mark tragic anniversary

The community of Lockerbie will hold a series of poignant memorials in the town on Friday to commemorate the anniversary.

The first will take place at 9am at Rosebank Crescent, where many of the bodies of the Pan Am passengers and crew were to be found. 

An hour later, locals will gather at Tundergarth Church, near the spot where the cockpit of Clipper Maid of the Seas came to rest. 

At 11am, residents of Sherwood Crescent – and the survivors who lived there at the time – will recall the terrible night that claimed the lives of 11 local people. 

At each location, a ‘moment of silence’ will be observed and a wreath laid. 

The Main Commemoration is a service in the grounds of Dryfesdale Cemetery, which houses a memorial bearing the names of all 270 victims.

It will be attended by Secretary of State David Mundell, the local MP, politicians, dignitaries and locals. 

A spokeswoman for the organisers, Lockerbie and District Community Council, said: ‘The early events are open to local people. If they want to go on to the Main Commemoration, they will be most welcome.’x text

She had been so excited about coming home for Christmas. She was my youngest, a lovely girl who was so fun loving and wanted to teach deaf children.

‘I remember I’d been baking ahead of her arrival and our home looked like Christmas and smelled like Christmas as we waited for our family to be with us again.’

She added: ‘It was one of Lindsey’s friends who called me to check which flight she was on as she’d heard there had been a crash. When we got a call from Pan Am later that day to say they had Lindsey’s boarding pass and she had been on the plane, we were heartbroken. 

It was a year later that we finally travelled to Lockerbie because we found the thought of the trip very difficult. In the end, it was very heart-warming. The people in the town were just lovely.’

She added: ‘We were just standing there outside Peter’s home and he came over and said to us ‘I know why you’re here’. The feelings we felt were overwhelming, it was so powerful. He was so welcoming and as I stood next to the spot were Lindsey fell, I picked up two small rocks from the garden.

‘Every single day since, I look at them sitting on my bureau and I pray for my daughter and the people of Lockerbie for what they went through.

As for Peter and his family, there will always be a special bond and he will always be part of our family.’

In the aftermath of Lindsey’s death, the Otenasek family created a charitable foundation in her name to help fund students who want to work with special needs children.

They plan to travel to the Arlington National Cemetery, outside Washington DC, on Friday for a memorial service to mark the 30th anniversary of the bombing.

Lindsey’s brother, Rick, said: ‘She was my little sister and we were always close. We found ourselves having to deal with a terrorist event on top of the death of my sister. 

My parents were amazing and, from the beginning, it was all about looking forward and the politics surrounding the circumstances of what happened just didn’t come into it.

From above: an aerial shot of the damage caused by the Pam Am Flight 103 on the town of Lockerbie, Dumfrieshire 

From above: an aerial shot of the damage caused by the Pam Am Flight 103 on the town of Lockerbie, Dumfrieshire 

From above: an aerial shot of the damage caused by the Pam Am Flight 103 on the town of Lockerbie, Dumfrieshire 

We just had to trust the investigative process and focused on that. Creating the foundation and turning Lindsey’s death into something positive, helped us all with our grief.’

Mrs Otenasek knows she is unlikely to visit Lockerbie again because of her age but, earlier this month, was delighted when ‘Lockerbie came to her’ instead.

A team of cyclists from the town – including Colin Dorrance, who was the youngest police officer on duty that night – completed a charity fundraiser – the Cycle to Syracuse – which began in Scotland in September.

The group, who wanted to show the community they were thinking of those who did not make it home in December 1988, took part in a formal ceremony at Syracuse University to remember the 35 students lost in the tragedy.

When the Otenasek family discovered the cyclists’ route was just two miles from their home, they made a point of going to meet up with them.

A delighted Mrs Otenasek said: ‘I took my two small rocks with me to show them they would always have a special place in my heart.

‘What they have achieved is so uplifting and I will never forget these wonderful people.’ 

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