By Kathianne Boniello
Confusion reigned among passengers at LaGuardia Airport Monday in the first few hours after an American Airlines flight bound for Santo Domingo crashed into homes in Belle Harbor minutes following takeoff from John F. Kennedy International Airport.
LaGuardia, JFK and Newark airports were quickly shut down after the crash of American Airlines Flight 587 into several private homes on the Rockaway peninsula. Although the Port Authority, which oversees the airports, officially reopened LaGuardia at about 1:30 p.m., takeoffs and landings did not resume until about 4 p.m. Monday afternoon.
Through the morning, passengers at LaGuardia were given little to no information about the status of their flights or the reopening of the airport and many had not heard details about the plane crash. It was unclear how many flights were canceled, although many were delayed and passengers were rebooked for trips later Monday or on Tuesday.
Judy Boston, a Manhattan resident who was scheduled to fly to Florida Monday morning to visit a sick relative, was virtually stranded after both the airports and the city’s bridges and tunnels were shut down as a security measure after the crash.
“We stayed in line for an hour and 15 minutes,” she said as she stood in the American Airlines terminal. “The only thing they told us was that when the airport shuts down, it usually happens for the day.”
Planes preparing for takeoff on LaGuardia runways were returned to their gates, passengers said, with little or no explanation as to why.
Tony Williams, a broadcast engineer from Yonkers, said his flight to Miami — his first airplane trip since the Sept. 11 terrorist attack — was returned to the gate.
Williams, who knew what was going on in Belle Harbor because a friend had e-mailed his interactive pager, said the pilot told passengers the plane was not taking off “because of an incident” but did not specify what had occurred.
“They don’t tell you what’s going on and that really got to me,” Williams said.
Williams said many passengers from his flight had tried to find out what happened by watching news broadcasts in the airport, but the televisions were quickly switched to sports.
Two other passengers who had flown to LaGuardia from Buenos Aires for a layover before going to Norfolk, Va., said their flight crew was visibly moved by the plane crash.
Drummie Zeb, drummer for the reggae band The Wailers, who had played with Bob Marley, said the stewardess on his flight, which was waiting to take off from LaGuardia, began to cry when she heard about the Belle Harbor plane crash.
“She became teary eyed,” said Zeb, who was traveling with tour manager Dave Widoff and forced to spend the afternoon wandering around LaGuardia like hundreds of other passengers.
Several passengers said they were told a decision to close or reopen the airport would be made at different times Monday afternoon. Those who were removed from canceled or delayed flights also said they could not get back the luggage that had already been put onboard the airliners.
At about 11 a.m., about two hours after LaGuardia shut down, dozens of passengers began to line up outside the American Airlines gate in anticipation of the airport’s reopening.
“They’re talking about it opening at noon,” said Dan Tobin of upstate New York, as he waited on the long line outside the gate.
Reach reporter Kathianne Boniello by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 146.