Planes bound for N.Y. rerouted to BWI after Flight 587 disaster

Passengers scramble to get home

some finish their trips aboard buses

Baltimore flights put on hold

November 13, 2001|By Rona Kobell and Laura Barnhardt | Rona Kobell and Laura Barnhardt,SUN STAFF

The passengers aboard Air Jamaica Flight 15 were enjoying the last leg of a smooth flight from Kingston on a beautiful day, believing they were on schedule for an 11:45 a.m. arrival at John F. Kennedy International Airport.

But instead of descending, passengers said, the plane began circling slowly. Soon, crew members announced that the plane was being diverted to Baltimore.

"I wondered what was really going on," said Angela Cooper, who had left her home in Jamaica at 4 a.m. and was headed to see relatives near the Rockaway section of Queens, N.Y.

Only when they landed at Baltimore-Washington International Airport around noon did Cooper and her fellow passengers learn the fate of American Airlines Flight 587, which crashed into a Rockaway neighborhood minutes after its morning takeoff.

Like Cooper, most passengers were learning details of the crash piecemeal, either from relatives or from the airport television monitors. They joined the thousands of other travelers at BWI yesterday whose flights were disrupted by the New York disaster and who were forced to wait or scramble for other travel arrangements.

Airport officials said four flights were diverted to BWI from New York: the Air Jamaica flight, two U.S. Airways flights from Florida and a Continental flight from Houston. An American Airlines flight from Detroit scheduled to land in New York also was diverted to BWI around 10 a.m.

Meanwhile, BWI's 28 flights to New York's three airports were "on hold" yesterday until the New York airports reopened shortly before 2 p.m. Four of those flights were canceled, and several others delayed, airport officials said.

Air Jamaica chartered two buses to take its passengers to New York City yesterday. New Yorkers Marie Chung, 28, and Suzanne Medley, 23, were among the first in line when the first bus arrived at 1:30 p.m. The pair, both financial analysts, had been vacationing in Jamaica after a stressful few weeks - Chung escaped from the third floor of the World Trade Center the day it was destroyed.

"I'm just focused on when are we going to get back to New York, where is the bus going to take us, that kind of thing," said a weary Chung, who lives five minutes' drive from JFK airport.

All morning, ticketing agents scrambled to rebook passengers. One Continental agent spent 15 minutes trying to help Houston passengers Sandra and Allen Miller find a way to fly home to Portland, Maine. They contemplated flying through Cleveland, but only first-class flights were available at $1,147 a ticket. Using frequent-flier miles for upgrades wouldn't work either, since the Millers had flown on a free ticket. The only option was a flight today - and Continental wouldn't pay for the hotel.

Allen Miller shook his head. "I'd like to get to work tomorrow," the 71-year-old textiles manager said. So the Millers decided to drive the 12 hours home.

"It's not their fault," Sandra Miller said of the airlines' staff. "We're certainly better off than the people who were on that plane."

By 3 p.m. flights were on time and BWI was bustling. Many travelers were relieved the crash appeared to be an accident.

"If it's an accident, I'll fly home at Christmas," said Amy Cloessner, a Catholic University law student who was returning from seeing family in New Orleans.

Paul Quirk, a Washington public relations consultant, watched TV news yesterday while waiting for friends to arrive from Providence, R.I. "Because it was more than likely a mechanical problem, it makes me feel a little better," he said.

Still, Quirk said he was worried about American Airlines' record - especially since he plans to take the carrier to Chicago for a flight to Spain on Saturday. "They've had a lot of bad stuff happen," he said.

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