Aaron Schaffer, Photo Editor

Mark Zaid ’89, a well-established lawyer based in Washington D.C., spoke last Monday in honor of the 25th anniversary of the “darkest day of 1988” — the deadliest attack on American civilians prior to 9/11.

On Dec. 21, 1988, the Pan American Flight 103, en route from London to New York City, crashed in the small village of Lockerbie, Scotland after a bomb dismantled the cockpit and caused the aircraft to nose dive from an altitude of 31,000 feet. Two-hundred forty-three Americans — including two students from UR, Eric Coker ’90 and Katherine Hollister ’90 — died in the crash.

At the talk, sponsored by the University history department, Zaid recounted the entire story of the tragedy and its aftermath, offering both a historical and personal perspective on the tragedy.

“I remember seeing the words ‘UR’ [at a cruise-stop in Puerto Rico], and my stomach just dropped,” Zaid said. “It just hit me.”

He had never met Coker, who was in London with his twin brother for a study abroad program sponsored by Syracuse University, but the two shared mutual friends.

Zaid knew Hollister through social mixers with his fraternity and because a fraternity brother had dated her. She was in London for a study abroad program that December.

After graduating from the University and attending law school, Zaid began prosecuting and he

began representing victims of the tragedy.

In 1993, he drafted a lawsuit to sue Libya with a fellow D.C. attorney. The conviction of Libyan nationalist Abdelbaset al-Megrahi took 10 years to complete and concluded with a $2.7 billion settlement. Zaid has also represented the families of over 30 victims, the most recent of which involved the brother of the pilot.

“It became personal,” Zaid said.

The tragedy, though not something many students are familiar with, is still a piece of unresolved history, one of the reasons the history department originally decided to host the talk.

“Nobody believes that this one intelligence officer for Libya perpetrated this on his own, so who else was involved?” Zaid asked. “Was there Syrian involvement? Iranian involvement? Was there Palestinian involvement? Did it go all the way up to Gadhafi?”

The motives of the attacks are still in question, and any perpetrators besides Megrahi have not been brought to trial.

“I’m still looking for a level of accountability,” Zaid said. “We haven’t learned anything new.”

Zaid has returned to UR several times in honor of the tragedy. He spoke on the subject on both the 10th and 20th anniversaries of the flight and attended the unveiling of a memorial plaque over this year’s Meliora Weekend.

“It’s very important to me to make sure that there are still lessons to be learned,” he said. “There is a meaning and purpose for their deaths, so it wasn’t just people who had happened to die that day.”

Usmani is a member of the class of 2017.



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