When an Alaska Airlines employee yelled “evacuate” at a major New York–area airport on Labor Day, one of the busiest travel days of the year, it sent 200 panicked people fleeing amid fears of a mass shooting attack.
Newark update: They’re letting us back in the airport. Absolute chaos. People looking for their things. I’ve never seen anything like this. Terrible. Just terrible. pic.twitter.com/N0euy2Jb99— Erin Fors (@forsie) September 3, 2019
Insane situation here at Newark Airport. They just told us all to evacuate and whole terminal scattered. Bags left behind. I initially thought it was an active shooter. Maybe a bomb threat. Confusion and chaos pic.twitter.com/eEAJusrXK8— David Lombardi (@LombardiHimself) September 3, 2019
Dozens of Port Authority police responded to Newark Liberty Airport in New Jersey on Monday night around 8.30 p.m. after the female airline employee yelled for people to evacuate before setting off an emergency alarm. Initial reports said she believed two male passengers were acting suspiciously, and when she approached them they started running.
But the two Chinese-born men at the center of the incident told BuzzFeed News it all began as a case of racial profiling. In their first media interview, the men said they did not know each other, did not run away, and that it was the female airline employee who had been acting erratically. She then approached one of the men and asked, “Are you scared? Are you nervous?”
She asked if he knew who the other man and what his itinerary was. She then asked, “Why are you acting suspiciously?” The questions went from weird to more bizarre. “How much are they paying you?” he said she asked them, not clarifying who “they” were. “Did they give you a visa? Did they give your family a visa? Do you make a lot of money? Do you work on Wall Street? Are you on an American visa?”
They would attempt to walk away from the airline employee but she followed him, saying, “I’m onto you guys. The cops are already called.” A gate agent then announced that boarding would be paused as there was an issue. Immediately afterward, the Alaska Airlines employee suddenly yelled, “Evacuate, evacuate!” and pressed an emergency alarm.
Michael Wolfmuller, 38, was walking toward the gate to board his flight home to San Francisco when he heard “evacuate” and saw people screaming and running in his direction.
Once it was clear no one was in immediate danger and it seemed to be a misunderstanding, police let the two men go. All affected passengers had to be rescreened through security.
After several more hours waiting for their flight to San Francisco to take off, it was canceled and rescheduled for the following day, with passengers put up in a nearby hotel.
An Alaska Airlines spokesperson told BuzzFeed News in an emailed statement they were investigating what had happened. “We understand the Newark issue was alarming and distressing for our guests and other flyers, and for that, we are deeply sorry,” said Oriana Branon. “We are conducting a thorough investigation of the incident and gathering witness statements to understand what exactly took place and why this happened.”
Source: Buzzfeed News