As they fled a shooting rampage at Los Angeles International Airport on Friday, hundreds of passengers ran for their lives. They left behind suitcases, wallets—and carefully arranged travel plans.
When the shooting ended, their odyssey was just beginning. The world’s sixth-busiest airport had been severely hobbled. For hours, stranded travelers waited behind police tape, tried to reach loved ones and walked through the eerily empty roads of the airport complex looking for a way out.
The Federal Aviation Administration called for a “ground stop,” meaning flights destined for Los Angeles were diverted — some to nearby airports such as LA/Ontario — and planes scheduled to depart from the airport were either canceled or delayed.
As the day stretched on, sidewalks teemed with pedestrians. Some walked away, heading toward Century Boulevard and its hotels and restaurants. Others, perhaps not fully aware of what had transpired, parked in nearby lots or neighborhoods and instead of taking shuttles were hoping to make it to their gates on foot.
With traffic blocked, the normally congested Sepulveda Boulevard tunnel next to the airport was empty of cars. Stranded passengers towed suitcases along the pavement.
One woman stopped and posed for a photo, standing in the middle of the tunnel and flinging out her arms.
“This is pretty eerie,” said Sandra O’Brien, of Minneapolis. “It feels like the ending of a disaster movie.”
Anne Tartaglia and her husband boarded a plane in Seattle on Friday morning for what was supposed to be a memorable introduction of their 1-year-old son to his great-grandparents in Los Angeles.
But the family get-together had to wait. They sat in the plane on the tarmac for nearly four hours. When the jetliner eventually moved to a private hangar at the airport’s southern edge, they were allowed to walk off, but were forced to stand or sit on the pavement in the hot sun for an hour.
“We felt alone, there wasn’t really any help for families with small children,” Tartaglia said. They were allowed to call a taxi, but taxis wouldn’t pick them up because they didn’t have a baby seat. The family would eventually head off to their introduction when a rental car shuttle arrived that had a seat safe enough for their son, Asher.
“It was a rough day, but the whole time, we’re thinking how lucky we were. Our flight was late. We were headed for that terminal. A few minutes earlier and we could have been there during the shooting,” Tartaglia said.
Francis Specker, 50, had planned to be on a flight headed for New York that was supposed to depart from Terminal 3, the site of the shootout. He was on a shuttle bus when the vehicle stopped and the driver said they couldn’t get closer to the airport. Specker got on Twitter and saw reports of the shooting and shared it with everyone else on the bus.
“It’s funny because I was hanging at the house ready to leave, but I didn’t want to wait at the airport, so I waited a half-hour. If I had gone to the airport, I probably would have seen the whole thing,” Specker said.
The shuttle turned around and came to a stop on Sepulveda Boulevard. Specker got off and walked among throngs of others to the Radisson hotel, holding on to hope that he’d catch a flight later in the day.
Outside the hotel, sitting on the curb with his hands in his hair, was an exasperated Leandro Peixoto, 37. The Sherman Oaks resident was worried about his 70-year-old mother, who was on the way to L.A. from Brazil for the first time. His mother doesn’t speak English, Peixoto said, and she wasn’t carrying a phone.
“The hardest part is not getting any information or ability to reach out to anyone who knows anything about her,” he said.
He watched a stream of passengers leaving the airport, hoping one of them was his mother.
“I just have to wait here,” he said.
Others did their best to make light of the situation.
Bruce Kurland, 69, sipped a beer and picked at a pack of peanut butter Ritz crackers as he chatted with Monette Clarke, 73. The pair were scheduled to leave for a monthlong trip to Thailand that they’ve been talking about since January.
At first Kurland was upset, he said, wondering why, of all days, something had to happen on this one.
Once he calmed down, he was just thankful that he wasn’t a part of the situation unfolding inside the airport, he said.
“We’re in a ‘Poseidon’ disaster, a tragedy, but we’re not in the disaster,” he said.
The retired teachers were initially concerned about traffic, and were pleased when they didn’t get caught in much on their way to Lot C — but that’s where they were forced to stay for more than six hours while their 12:50 p.m. departure time came and went.
A bus driver pointed Kurland to the liquor store, and the pair, who were in good spirits, made the best of the delay.
“The trip is an abstract because we’re in a parking lot instead of a beach on Bangkok,” he said. “But I’ll just be thankful we weren’t in there.”