The Labor Day travel rush ended in moments of panic at the Newark Liberty International Airport Monday night when an Alaska Airlines employee noticed two passengers getting set to board whom she thought looked suspicious. When the flight attendant approached the two men around 8:30 p.m. in the airport’s Terminal A, the men reportedly bolted, running away through the terminal. In response, the employee screamed “evacuate!” and pulled an alarm that understandably sparked panic and chaos at the end of the busy travel day.
Terrified passengers abandoned carry-on bags as they rushed to the exits. Others hid under seats, fearing an active shooter. “I dove on the ground,” passenger David Lombardi told the New York Times. “I thought it was an active shooter. I went under the seats at the airport. There were people sprinting out of the terminal. We live in a world where people think there’s an active shooter everywhere.”
The Port Authority said as many as 200 passengers in the terminal evacuated outside the gate, leaving many on the tarmac as police responded to the incident. “I ran with the crowds, hid under some seats, looked for an exit, headed out to the tarmac,” passenger Erin Fors tweeted. “Sounded like gun shots but after seeing the damage in this terminal, it’s more likely it was glass being shattered from people jumping. Terrifying.”
“As we were starting to board, a flight attendant on my flight exited the plane, talked to the gate agents, became clearly agitated and started screaming ‘evacuate,’ ” Fors told the Times. “People ran, hid, screamed. Everything you would do when you hear ‘evacuate’ in an airport. Many people exited to the tarmac. Police and SWAT arrived. They ushered us in once clear. Nobody said what happened though there was speculation that someone was in custody. It was frankly terrifying.”
It’s unclear what exactly prompted the flight attendant to become suspicious of the two men. The men were questioned by police—who determined there would be no charges or arrests—and were then allowed to board. A spokesperson for Alaska Airlines said the company is investigating why the alarm was sounded. Airport authorities quickly responded, investigated, and gave an all-clear with minimal disruption.
Passengers returned to the terminal to the signs of terror and chaos moments before.