Former resident still thinks Gaddafi behind plane crash
But she and all of her friends and family remain thankful to this day that she didn’t fly that route on Dec. 21, 1988. That’s the day that a terrorist’s bomb exploded on the flight, and the Boeing 747 plunged from the sky, crashing in Lockerbie, Scotland, killing 270 people.
Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi, a former Libyan intelligence officer, was convicted as the mastermind of the bombing. Many believe Libyan leader Muammar al-Gaddafi also was involved, though he never was charged.
Today, the story of the crash has become news again as rebels fight government soldiers in Libya, and Gaddafi is in hiding.
After being imprisoned for several years, Megrahi was released two years ago by Scottish authorities on humanitarian grounds because he was terminally ill and believed to be close to death. But he remains alive, and some recently have called for his return to Scotland as the Libyan revolution continues.
Paulus, who lost many coworkers on the doomed flight, said Megrahi never should have been released. And she said she agrees with those who have placed blame on Gaddafi.
“I always believed it was Gaddafi that gave the instructions,” said Paulus, now a Dallas resident who works as a senior health care risk management consultant for Zurich Insurance. “ I just always thought it came from the top. I always thought (Megrahi) was the sacrificial lamb. He may have put the bomb on the plane, but he didn’t decide to do it on his own. Someone must have told him to do it.”
Paulus lived in Port Aransas from the ages of 10 to about 23. After graduating from PAHS, she enrolled in Trinity University and got a bachelor of science degree in business administration. Not too long after that, she took the job with Pan Am, in January 1988.
Paulus worked the Flight 103 route many times, but she just happened to be off work and visiting her sister, Genevieve “Liddy” Scalan, in San Antonio, when the bombing occurred.
Paulus learned of the crash while watching TV at her sister’s home. She saw footage of a large fire on the ground, and she heard a newscaster say it was a plane crash in Lockerbie.
“I thought, ‘Oh, thank God, we don’t fly to Scotland,’ not realizing they flew over it on (Flight 103),” Paulus said.
Then the newscast reported it was Flight 103.
“I was in shock,” Paulus said. “I couldn’t believe it had gone down.”
Paulus wasn’t especially close to any of the airline employees who died, but the crash was still a wrenching thing for her. Not long after the crash, she saw a list of the people who were on board.
“That was really hard, to see those names and learn the stories behind the crash,” she said.
Paulus and other Pan Am volunteers manned phones, answering calls from members of the public wanting to know if friends and family members were on board the plane. That experience actually made her feel a little better, because she was helping out, and she never had to tell anyone that a loved one had been killed.
“I just remember telling people, over and over, ‘No, I don’t see that name on the list,’” she said.
Paulus also helped law enforcement officers investigating the crash. She remembers showing them charts displaying how the plane’s seating was laid out and who sat where.
Paulus worked the Flight 103 route from London to New York City on Christmas Day – three days after the crash.
“It was very difficult,” she said. “One of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life was to get back on Flight 103. … You know (the explosion) happened about 30 minutes into it, and as you’re getting to that point, you’re thinking: ‘OK, this was it. What were they doing at this particular moment?’ It was hard.”
When she tired of working as a flight attendant, Paulus resigned from Pan Am in May 1989 and enrolled again at Trinity University in San Antonio. She got a master’s degree in health care administration.
Paulus flies a lot today, mostly on business. She said she never worries about terrorism, but not because she’s confident that security measures will keep bombs off planes.
“I don’t feel like the government has us covered,” Paulus said. “On the contrary, I think something could get through to a plane. I just don’t worry because if my time is up, worrying won’t change that.”
Despite the fact that she doesn’t worry about terrorism, whenever Paulus flies, she finds herself going over emergency procedures in her head.
“I will tell you, to this very day, every single time I take off or land, I say my mantra, the one they taught us to say to ourselves as flight attendants,” Paulus said.
It’s a set of instructions that attendants were supposed to state aloud to passengers in an emergency.
“Grab your ankles, stay down, open seatbelts, leave everything, come this way,” Paulus said, recalling the mantra. “Point at two people. Look them in the eye. ‘You and you. Stay at the bottom of the slide to help people off and send them away.’
“And then you’re supposed to start yelling, ‘Jump, jump, jump!’ ” Paulus said. “It’s a habit. Twenty-something years later, I’m still saying it.”
Paulus’s parents are Richard and Della Scalan of Port Aransas. In addition to Liddy, who now lives in San Marcos, Paulus has another sister, Elizabeth “Beedle” Scalan, of Kerrville, and a brother, Nick Scalan, of the Leander area. All are former Port Aransas residents.
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Dan Parker at (361) 749- 5131 or firstname.lastname@example.org.