Local families stung by new twist in '88 bombing case

Stan and Norma Maslowski lost their daughter, Diane, left, in the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103. The painting is of his uncle.
Stan and Norma Maslowski lost their daughter, Diane, left, in the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103. The painting is of his uncle.
Posted: July 15, 2010

Reminders of their daughter Diane dot the Maslowskis' Collingswood home - old photos, her collection of cookbooks, souvenirs from her travels.

The slender blonde, who lived in London, was a bond trader by day and ballet dancer by night. She spoke five languages fluently and traded in eight, and, her father, Stan, chuckled, she swore so creatively that she used "four-letter words that don't even exist."

"Diane was driven," Maslowski said. "She said, 'I see millionaires and I want to be one.' "

Diane Maslowski visited her dance studio for the last time on Dec. 21, 1988, on her way to the airport. The 30-year-old was aboard Pan Am Flight 103, en route from London to New York City, when a terrorist's bomb blew it up over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing all 259 aboard and 11 on the ground. More than 50 of the victims were from New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

Now, in a new development to a plot with seemingly endless twists, four U.S. senators say international oil politics, not compassion, may have led to the decision to free the only person convicted for downing the Boeing 747.

Abdel Baset al-Megrahi was eight years into a life sentence when, saying it was in accordance with national values, Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill granted the bomber's release from prison on Aug. 20, 2009, so that he might spend his last days in his native Libya. Megrahi, who has prostate cancer, had been given three months to live.

A year later, a British doctor whose examination of Megrahi contributed to the prognosis says his estimate was based more on a suggestion from the Libyan government than medical certainty. Megrahi, 58, could live 10 more years, he said.

"To think my daughter died for nothing," said Norma Maslowski. Megrahi's release "put a knife in our family. . . . It's really torn everyone apart."

Democratic Sens. Frank Lautenberg and Robert Menendez of New Jersey and the senators from New York have asked the State Department and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to investigate whether the British oil giant BP influenced the decision to release Megrahi, to advance the company's stalled $900 million oil-exploration agreement with Libya.

"It was clear that there were diplomatic and commercial interests putting pressure on the Scottish government to release this guy," said Frank Duggan of Alexandria, Va., president of a group that represents relatives of the victims.

Megrahi "is living in the lap of luxury, and he may outlive all of us," Duggan said.

"The story does not die. Justice has not been completely settled," said Eileen Monetti of Cherry Hill. Her son, Rick, 20, was on the doomed flight after a college semester in London. Monetti and her husband, Bob, say they worry that justice was sacrificed to business interests.

Megrahi's "release from prison was a horrible miscarriage of justice," said Lautenberg, who served on the presidential commission that investigated the Flight 103 attack.

BP denies involvement in the release of the former Libyan intelligence officer, but a company spokesman has acknowledged that the situation was of great interest to the company.

"Like many others, we were aware that a delay in the deal might have negative consequences for UK commercial interests, including ratification of BP's exploration agreement," BP spokesman Robert Wine told the Associated Press.

Scotland's government, not that of the United Kingdom, was in charge of the decision, Wine said.

A State Department spokesman has acknowledged that "serious questions" have been raised about BP's role in the decision. But he could not say whether an inquiry would be opened.

"It really is a Tom Clancy novel," said Stan Maslowski. He and his wife, who became activists in the case, have visited Washington and Scotland more than 50 times since the bombing.

"It never stops. I open up that computer every morning and there will be three or four" e-mails about Flight 103, said Norma Maslowski.

Other families remain actively involved in the case. Bob Monetti - whose daughter Kara named one of her sons in memory of her brother, and another son after a Scottish survivor with whom she grew close - plans to go to Scotland on Saturday for a television interview.

The media storm can be overwhelming, Bob Monetti said. The family cooperates in order to set the record straight and as a tribute to Rick, who studied journalism at Syracuse University.

"That's one of the curses. We have to talk to newspaper people and TV people because that's what he would have been doing," Monetti said.

With political and business interests often driving the case, "the only thing that goes against this nonsense . . . is people like us," Monetti said.

Though frustrated by Megrahi's release and the hero's welcome he received in his homeland, Duggan has little hope that Megrahi will be re-imprisoned.

"The horse is out of the barn. You can't get him back," said Duggan, whom President George H.W. Bush appointed as a family liaison to the official investigation 21 years ago.

Meanwhile, the Maslowskis stay busy. They oversee the restoration of an extensive collection of Polish art amassed by a family member, and they are frequent travelers. They are taking a two-week Baltic cruise, during which they will hunt for gowns for their Collingswood bridal boutique.

"What else can we do?" Stan Maslowski said.

Her pacing and crying have dwindled, said Norma Maslowski, but the ache remains.

"It's the first thing you think about in the morning and the last thing you think about at night," she said. "It never goes away. You should never have to bury a child."

Contact staff writer Jen Wulf at 856-779-3228 or jwulf@phillynews.com.

This article contains information from the Associated Press.

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