Reuters Sports Editor, Pictures, Greg Bos recalls covering the 1988 Lockerbie bombing in the following question and answer session.
What role were you in when the bombing happened?
I was working on the Reuters pictures desk at the time, but was also part of the rotation system we had – where photographers could go out and cover picture assignments.
How did you hear about it?
I was at home nursing a bad cold, when staff photographer colleague Nick Didlick called and asked if I could get up to Scotland asap. The company had arranged for a private plane to fly me and two text journalists from Stansted Airport to Carlisle on the Scottish border in the middle of the night. Meanwhile, Nick and fellow staffer Rob Taggert drove to Lockerbie through the night in the pool car with all the darkroom equipment. We arrived at Carlisle Airport at around 4:00 or 5:00am and I was told to stay put because a media helicopter was due to go up at dawn for aerial shots. I was the designated pool photographer on the first morning. However, it was a very foggy morning and I could not see any of the wreckage or the large crater. I remember the aerial pictures from the first morning were unusable. I was terribly disappointed after spending several hours in a freezing cold helicopter with blocked sinuses.
How long did you stay at the site?
I stayed at Lockerbie over the Christmas holiday period – about two weeks. Nick and Rob left before me, and I was later joined by staff photographer colleague Russell Boyce. We were housed in a hotel just off the main highway. They had planned to close for the holidays, but stayed open to accommodate Reuters staff and several other journalists covering the story. Everyday we would go up to the main crash site out of town and take pictures from a small church yard across the road. I recall it was very cold standing there for hours, snapping off a few frames at a time, or when something happened. The large crater was either off limits to media for awhile, or did not produce any new imagery. I was lucky – having the color camera in hand – when I captured the rescue workers carrying a body bag and walking past the wreckage of the cockpit fuselage. I believe at the time most of the other photographers were shooting black and white film. This image was published on many front newspaper pages in the UK and around the world.
What camera equipment were you using?
It was Nikon cameras and black and white film in those days – with some color film for big stories. It was quite a juggling act shooting color in one camera and black and white in another as there was always the risk you would miss something important that needed to be recorded in color. I even shot half a roll of Ektachrome transparency film – protectively – in case something happened to the color negative film we were using. I also had the misfortune of accidentally breaking a bathroom sink while I was tapping the air bubbles out of a stainless steel film development tank. The hotel owner was not happy about it, but Reuters paid for a new sink.
How did you transmit pictures?
We had two-wire connections to the land line telephone in one of the bedrooms – in which the bathroom was converted into a darkroom – and filed pictures using a drum transmitter. We printed pictures on 8×10 paper using a custom easel that had a white space for adding a caption. The captions were typed on sticky back paper using a portable typewriter. A black and white picture took about 8 minutes. A color transmission – of three separations (cyan, magenta and yellow) took about 7-8 minutes per separation – thus nearly half an hour to move a color project as it was called then. If the transmitted color picture landed on the picture desk in London with hits, often the whole process had to be repeated in order get the separation targets correctly aligned. It was a long cumbersome process that could keep a photographer up all night if the phone lines were bad. We also had to process a lot of film for clients such as the Washington Post and the New York Post. This was known as a ‘special request’ and helped to generate a bit of extra revenue.
What was your emotional reaction to the disaster?
At first I was kind of detached from the whole thing – just concentrating on getting the right pictures to illustrate the story. But after I photographed a distraught and confused mother leaving a memorial church service holding the hands of several children and being monstered by a pack of Fleet Street photographers – then going to the site of the giant crater where the remains of some of the residents were never found – it really hit home what a terrible tragedy this was. In 1992 I visited the memorial plaque at the small church outside the village to pay my respects. The memories of covering the Lockerbie disaster are still with me today.
A woman looks at the main headstone in the Lockerbie disaster memorial garden at Dryfesdale cemetery in Lockerbie, Scotland December 18, 2008. REUTERS/David Moir