It was at just over 7pm on Wednesday, December 21 when life changed irrevocably for the people of Lockerbie and the passengers and crew of Pan Am Flight 103 whose fates collided with devastating consequences.
Yet even now, 30 years later, the sights and sounds and the tear-stained, uncomprehending faces of those caught up in the worst act of terrorism on British soil remains painfully seared on my mind.
The following day, shock, horror, desolation and a desperate desire for answers as to what had happened were evident among the townspeople, 11 of whom were among the 270 who perished in the conflagration. But the overriding impression for a journalist arriving at the scene was of a community numb with grief and loss.
One of the residents said simply after surveying the wreckage in Sherwood Crescent: “They were here one minute. Then they were gone.”
A decade later, I returned to Lockerbie and discovered that, although a veneer of normalcy had returned, allied to an impressive house rebuilding programme and the creation of new leisure facilities, the atrocity was still taking its toll.
This is one thing which those unfamiliar with disaster and tragedy may struggle to fathom, but the ripples extend way beyond the immediate impact.
Just consider the Flannigan family and you will understand how Lockerbie was a waking nightmare for so many of those concerned.
Kathleen Flannigan, 41, her husband, Thomas, 44, and their 10-year-old daughter, Joanne, were all killed instantly when an explosion ripped through their house at 16 Sherwood Crescent. Their bodies were never found; they had quite literally been atomised in the blast.
In these circumstances, it is impossible to envisage the terror and trauma which must have been experienced by their 14-year-old son, Steven, who witnessed a fireball engulfing his home from a neighbour’s garage, where he had been repairing his sister’s bicycle.
Their other son, David, 19, was in Blackpool at the time and was forced to return to a scene straight from a Dore painting. He later turned to alcohol and drugs and died from heart failure in Thailand in 1993, aged 24.
Steven, meanwhile, despite seeking some semblance of a fresh start in England, couldn’t avoid being a prisoner of the past. He died in August, 2000, struck by a train in Wiltshire.
It is hardly surprising that Lockerbie remains inextricably linked with something terrible, as does Dunblane, Hungerford, Aberfan…other little places which were thrust into the spotlight because of disaster and catastrophe.
But what impressed many of us who visited the town was the determination of most members of the community not to be frozen in time, not to remain vengeful towards those who had perpetrated the attack.
The only person convicted of the bombing, former Libyan intelligence officer Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, died in 2012 after being released from Greenock jail on compassionate grounds.
Yet, while conspiracy theories persist, they are thin on the ground in Lockerbie itself. As one resident told me: “We had to start again and find things to do to take our minds of it.
“But there were so many young people killed [including 35 students from Syracuse University] that we recognised others were a lot worse off than us.
“We knew their families would want to come here and try to make sense of what had happened. So we made up our minds to be there for them in whatever way we could.”
Today and over the weekend, wreaths will be laid at a memorial garden in Lockerbie, and Canon Patrick Keegans, the parish priest in the town at the time of the tragedy, will speak at Mass, led by Bishop William Nolan, at the Holy Trinity RC.
A memorial ceremony will also be held at Syracuse University and at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia, where a cairn made from Lockerbie stone stands in memory of those who died.
Mr Keegans sums up the attitude of so many in his environs. He will never forget, but he wants to look forward as well as back.
As he said: “It doesn’t go away, it stays with people, especially those who have lost family.
“But it’s part of our life now. We live with it. We don’t live sad, miserable lives, but there’s a constant undercurrent. The memories stay with me, they are part and parcel of who I am now.”
At least, as he added, he was spared. So, too, was Kara Weipz from New Jersey, who lost her 20-year-old brother, Rick Monetti, one of the Syracuse students, whose dreams and ambitions were snatched away.
The mother-of-three, who is president of the Victims of Pan Am Flight 103 group, shares Mr Keegans’ feelings of tristesse, but she is also proud of the links which have been forged between the United States and Scotland.
She said: “We can’t change things, we can’t bring them back, but we can look at the fact we have always honoured them with the way we live our lives and the things we do.
“Yes, the sadness takes many forms, but myself and others are also looking at what we’ve done in the last 30 years and how we’ve come together, enacted change, created our own family, and been there for one another.”
If there is any positive aspect to Lockerbie’s suffering, it lies in that connection between two countries and hundreds of families, who have established an immutable bond.