Local passengers grateful after witnessing Fort Lauderdale attack
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,”
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.