16 Dec 18
The Scottish Sun
SUSE Lowenstein always wears the same bright red jacket when she walks into her studio to start her working day.
The old waterproof anorak is peppered with burn holes and rips, but it’s a constant fixture in the sculptor’s wardrobe.
Suse’s son Alexander in the bright red jacket he wore boarding Pan Am Flight 103
Thirty years ago on Friday, her son Alexander was wearing it as he boarded Pan Am Flight 103 at Heathrow Airport, before storing it away and sitting down on seat 20D.
The 20-year-old English student — called Alexi by his parents — was one of 35 Syracuse University students on board the plane returning home from London for Christmas.
They all lost their lives when the jet exploded in the skies above Lockerbie.
Many months later, Suse’s husband Peter answered the door to a US State Department official who was holding a number of carefully-wrapped packages.
[quote]I will wear that jacket until I die[/quote]
They were items of clothing, washed and neatly pressed inside layers of tissue paper — and among them was Alexi’s red jacket.
And that’s why next Friday, on the 30th anniversary of her son’s death, Suse will be thinking about the Women of Lockerbie — local residents, many of them mothers themselves, who spent the aftermath of the atrocity gathering clothes that had been scattered from the doomed jet across the countryside below.
In a painstaking process — and with help from police forensic officers — they managed to piece together the most heartbreaking jigsaw to get the belongings home to victims’ distraught loved ones.
Suse, 74, will never forget their remarkable kindness.
A family pic with Alexi on the right
She said: “I will wear that jacket until I die.
“This was the jacket Alexi wore onto the plane. It has burn holes and rips in it but I love that jacket. It was an incredible comfort to us.
“I still work as a sculptor, which involves welding, and I wear Alexander’s red jacket when I weld — so I always have that on.
Ex-air accident investigator reveals horrors of Lockerbie crash wreckage
“It is one of several items I still have and cherish. They were sent to the US State Department and the packages were hand delivered by an official.
“I remember my husband asking, ‘How in God’s name did you know that this was our son’s?’.”
Suse and Peter — who died from a heart condition in May aged 83 — spent the following months learning about the astonishing humanitarian work of the Lockerbie Laundry Project.
As the aircraft exploded, hundreds of suitcases had spilled out of the hold and their contents were scattered over dozens of square miles of countryside below.
Suse wearing Alexander’s jacket this year
Almost everyone in Lockerbie who was able to help volunteered to be part of the grim clear-up operation in the days and weeks that followed.
They gathered whatever clothing they could find — much of it shredded or destroyed — as well as other personal items including bags, wallets and jewellery. And crucially they also collected cameras and roll upon roll of film.
Meanwhile, a laundry was set up in a warehouse on the outskirts of town. Some of the belongings were kept by police to be used for evidence in the later trial, while the rest was sent to be cleaned.
German-born Suse explained: “Some of those who were on board were carrying photos which they had developed in London or wherever they were coming from.
“In other cases, the film from their cameras was recovered and developed by the police in Scotland.
“They had gone through all of our Alexi’s photographs and noticed him wearing this red jacket and made the connection. It was truly unbelievable.”
She explained how Alexander had also marked some of his clothing with a magic marker. But much of the identification came through the photographs.
Suse, who lives in Montauk, 100 miles from New York city, can’t find the words to describe her gratitude to the women who helped reunite her with her beloved boy’s clothes.
[quote]I remember my husband asking, ‘How in God’s name did you know that this was our son’s?’[/quote]
But what impressed her as much as anything was how they quietly carried out their heroic efforts without seeking any thanks or drawing attention to themselves.
She said: “That’s the remarkable thing about the Women of Lockerbie — not only did they do what they did, but they didn’t advertise it or put themselves into the limelight.
“That, in a way, is typically Scottish. The Scots to me have been very down-to-earth and humble people and this was not something they felt they needed to broadcast.
“I never met any of them. I didn’t know their names and I didn’t know how they would have felt about being approached, so I chose not to.”
Their selfless actions inspired a play called The Women of Lockerbie, written by Deborah Brevoort, which has toured the world and also been performed at the Edinburgh Fringe.
[boxout headline=”Author’s inspiration”]AUTHOR Deborah Brevoort says she was inspired to create her play The Women of Lockerbie because a story of “enormous beauty” emerged from the devastation.
She was inspired by a TV documentary about the laundry project — and her work has won a string of awards and been staged more than 600 times.
Deborah said: “I remember the image of the cockpit in the field and the fire raining from the sky.
“Yet in the middle of this devastation was a story of enormous beauty. The women haven’t spoken much because they don’t believe what they did was extraordinary.
“But that’s extraordinary in itself.”
Recalling the day the clothes arrived at their New York home, Suse said the emotion she and Peter felt while opening the packages will live with her forever.
She said: “It was such comfort to us because in our country, at least, we found very little sympathy and to feel this degree of caring by the Scots was just incredible.
“I think I speak for all the families in that regard and that is something we will never forget. To identify each and every item from all those passengers so they could return them to their families and their loved ones — it was truly unbelievable.
“Our loved ones died over Scotland, many miles away from us, and we never saw the bodies. We were told not to view the caskets as they came so we had nothing.
“The clothing that came back was literally the only thing we had.
“Easily 25 items were returned to us, between Alexi’s shoes, T-shirts and trousers. And no matter how shredded they were, they were all washed and ironed and lovingly wrapped in tissue paper.
“It was very important, certainly to me and my husband, to have these items. I cannot tell you how meaningful that was to us.”
Amazingly, Suse had flown to the UK to spend time with Alexi just a couple of weeks before the disaster claimed his life.
She revealed: “I was absolutely overwhelmed by this urge, this necessity to fly to London to see him. At the time, it made no sense — he was coming home in two weeks. It was an expensive thing to do, but something inside me propelled me to go.
“And so I did and we spent a glorious ten days together. I even took him to Germany to meet my family. He had met my parents, but not his uncles or aunts or any of his cousins. Thank God I did that.”
Alexander’s body was found by local farmer Jim Wilson, who was able to show the family where he discovered their son and went on to become friends with the Lowensteins.
They decided to build a cairn on that spot in his memory and Suse still comes back to visit it most years.
Alexi had a younger brother Lucas, who also studied at Syracuse.
[quote]Our loved ones died over Scotland, many miles away from us, and we never saw the bodies[/quote]
Suse recalled: “A few weeks before his death, Alex and some of his friends visited Edinburgh and they bought Scottish sweaters. That sweater was also returned and I gave it to Lucas. His brother’s death hit him very hard. Lucas has given me three grandchildren, and that’s all I have in my little family now.”
Before the Lockerbie disaster happened, Alexi was dating fellow Syracuse student Beth Morris, who had been with him in London, but fortunately was flying home elsewhere on that fateful night 30 years ago.
Suse said: “Alex put her on another plane two hours before he boarded Pan Am 103 because she lived in Chicago. So thank God she took a different plane.
“By the time she landed in Chicago, Alexander was dead already. It was tragic.
“We kept in touch for a while and then it became too difficult for her, so I pulled back and I never heard from her again.
“I had to respect that she had moved on.”
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Suse has used her artistic skills to create a collection of sculptures as a memorial to the Lockerbie victims called Dark Elegy.
And she believes it is fitting that her tribute is now part of her garden in Montauk.
She added: “It was his favourite place because he was a surfer and we have incredible waves. He loved being in Montauk.
“He was what we called a sunny spirit, very much liked by his peers, often standing up for the less liked kids.
“He was funny with a good sense of humour and rarely in a bad mood.
“I miss him every day. I’m glad I have his jacket.”
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