JACKSONVILLE, FLA.— Jacksonville International Airport was shut down for nearly five hours, stranding incoming planeloads of passengers on the tarmac and delaying outgoing flights after police found two suspicious packages, one of which was deemed “destructive” and had to be deactivated offsite by a bomb squad.
The airport was evacuated shortly after 6 p.m. Tuesday when police found one suspicious package in the terminal and another in a nearby parking garage, Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office spokesman Shannon Hartley told a news conference at 11 p.m., just after the airport reopened.
Hartley said one of the packages “had some destructive nature that ... had to be taken offsite,” but he did not elaborate.
He would not say which of the packages was destructive, and said he could not confirm local news media reports that two suspects had been arrested.
CBS Jacksonville affiliate WTEV-TV quotes a viewer who was there as saying people calmly left the terminal and there was no sense of panic. Police were inside the terminal directing people outside, the viewer said.
When authorities decided to evacuate the terminal and shut down the airport, some incoming planes were held up on the tarmac until buses could arrive to pick up the passengers, airport spokesman Michael Stewart said. He could not say how many planes were held up or for how long. Airport officials tweeted shortly after the evacuation that passengers on inbound flights would be bused to offsite hotels as transportation became available.
At least one plane was preparing to depart at the time of the evacuation, but Stewart said he did not know if it already had pulled away from the gate at the time of the evacuation. No flights were allowed to take off following the evacuation.
With the airport reopening, Stewart said individual airlines would determine how to restart their operations. “The airlines will work to ensure all passengers will receive their luggage,” the airport tweeted on its official Twitter site.
Arlie Gentry arrived on a Southwest Airlines flight from New York via Baltimore just before 6:30 p.m.
“We moved from one spot on the runway to another spot,” said Gentry, reached by telephone while he was still sitting on the plane. “They told us we couldn’t get off the plane.”
The pilots couldn’t initially tell the passengers why, claiming they didn’t know themselves, Gentry said.
Gentry said the delay was cumbersome and bothersome, but everyone on his plane remained calm. He said he was never really concerned for his safety, because the plane remained so far from the terminal.
Gentry said a bus arrived about 9:30 p.m. to start taking passengers to a nearby hotel. Gentry’s sisters had been waiting in the parking lot for several hours and were planning to take him back to Gainesville.