Lo­cal pas­sen­gers grate­ful after wit­ness­ing Fort Laud­erdale at­tack

The Drumheller Mail - - FRONT PAGE - Pa­trick Ko­lafa sub­mit­ted

A fam­ily from Acme is count­ing bless­ings after a long day aboard a flight on the tar­mac in Fort Laud­erdale, dur­ing one of the worst air­port at­tacks in re­cent his­tory.

The eyes of the world were fo­cused on Ter­mi­nal 2 at Fort Laud­erdale Air­port on Fri­day af­ter­noon as a lone gun­man opened fire near a bag­gage claim. In all, five peo­ple were killed and six were in­jured in the shoot­ing. Around 36 peo­ple were in­jured in the aftermath. To­day a 26-year-old suspect, Este­ban San­ti­agoRuiz, a mil­i­tary vet­eran, is in cus­tody after sur­ren­der­ing.

Right when this was hap­pen­ing, Jan, wife of Glen Rieger, con­troller at West­ern GM, and their daugh­ter Shelby Rieger, were board­ing their flight from Fort Laud­erdale to Ottawa after a hol­i­day in Mi­ami. They had left ter­mi­nal 1, and Jan was op­ti­mistic their flight was go­ing to be on time.

“We had just boarded when it hap­pened, we stayed at the gate for quite some time,” re­calls, Jan. “They came on the ra­dio and said we couldn’t back up be­cause there were buses on the tar­mac.”

She said the pas­sen­gers were only told there was a se­cu­rity in­ci­dent, but as they sat in the plane on the run­way, peo­ple be­gan to re­ceive text mes­sages and saw the head­lines about the shoot­ing in­ci­dent.

“Other peo­ple on the plane were get­ting in­for­ma­tion on their phones,” she said.

They sat on the plane for quite some time, and they were told the plane would be able to leave the gate, spark­ing some hope that they would be tak­ing off in the near fu­ture.

“We were the sec­ond plane of 30 lined up to leave, so we thought we’d get out of there in no time, but it just never left,”

said Jan.

While they were wait­ing, they were lucky to be on a plane ready to de­part be­cause it had food and wa­ter. How­ever, the plane was not run­ning so there was no air con­di­tion­ing, mak­ing it rather un­com­fort­able.

“We sat on the plane from 1 p.m., un­til 8 p.m., and then they led us back to the gate,” she said. “Dur­ing that time we had ac­cess to wa­ter, ac­cess to the wash­rooms and some food. But the peo­ple who had evac­u­ated the ter­mi­nal, they were still on the tar­mac. At the time I didn’t feel we were very for­tu­nate to be on the plane, but when we thought about it af­ter­wards, we were in the safest spot on the run­way in the plane.”

“I have to give 100 ku­dos to the WestJet flight at­ten­dants, they were so good,” she said.

Shortly after 8 p.m., they were al­lowed to exit the plane. They arrived in a closed air­port ter­mi­nal with bag­gage all over as the peo­ple had evac­u­ated with­out their carry-on lug­gage, and a large po­lice and mil­i­tary pres­ence. All the kiosks were opened, al­beit aban­doned. Be­cause the air­port was closed, they were not able to re­trieve their lug­gage and made their way to the Westjet desk. In about three hours, ar­range­ments were made for them to stay the night, and they boarded one of the shut­tles, which hap­pened to be a win­dow­less prison bus. This was at about 1 a.m., and it was still a scene of chaos. “They said there were 10,000 peo­ple, it was un­real,” she said. They took the bus to near Port Ever­glade, where cruise ships dock, and then were let off not know­ing where to go. Even­tu­ally, they found a taxi stand and made it to a ho­tel.

After about four hours sleep, they be­gan to check on flights and most were still can­celled. They arrived at the air­port at 11 a.m. for a 2 p.m. flight. It fi­nally left at 7 p.m. and they made it to Ottawa. “We missed our con­nect­ing flights lit­er­ally be­fore we left Fort Laud­erdale,” she said. “But we were in Canada, it felt so good!” A day and a half later they were home.

“There were so many things that were hor­ri­ble, fam­i­lies that lost their loved one and the peo­ple that were in­jured,” she said. “In ret­ro­spect, we were very for­tu­nate.” She is also grate­ful for how the crew per­formed through­out the or­deal. “They were just fab­u­lous both days, it was a har­row­ing ex­pe­ri­ence for them as well.

Shelby and Jan Rieger are grate­ful to be home after be­ing swept up in the chaos and af ter­math of a shoot­ing at the F ort Laud­erdale Air­port Fri­day af­ter­noon.

A view from the plane on the tar­mac of the hun­dreds evac­u­ated from the air­port.

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