Philomena and Eamon Smith (formerly Blackrock) with Pat and Marie Hamilton as they headed home on Monday morning.
A local Blackrock couple had a harrowing experience last Friday morning as they became caught up in a shooting which claimed the lives of five people when a gunman opened fire at Fort Lauderdale airport in Florida.
As they waited to Board their flights home from Fort Lauderdale to Dublin, Pat and Marie Hamilton were seated in the waiting area for their noon flight to J.F.K and Dublin when shots rang out at the end of the hallway.
According to Pat, in the ensuing panic people were screaming and diving under any form of cover or behind seats.
“A security guard opened a gate and there was a mad scramble to get to the door...and it literally was survival of the fittest with fear dictating the pace . Hand luggage , laptops , phones , shoes and parcels were scattered and in the panic some elderly people were literally knocked over and many children were separated from their parents in the rush to get out of the lounge areas. Everybody was ushered down to the ground floor outside area,” he explained.
“Just when the Army and Sheriffs Dept. got the all clear after about an hour to proceed back into the building via a service tunnel a further scramble ensued when word filtered through that the “active shooter” was still at large and approx.
“A few hundred people were quickly shepherded about 150 yards further along the wall area where they remained. Once again just when all were ready to head back after another hour again disruption and chaos took place and this time the crowd headed straight for the runways. Armed police and Army rangers moved the crowd across a second runway.
“At this stage police and ambulance sirens could be heard clearly in the vicinity of the different . A private hangar was cleared and airport staff and Security managed to escort the crowd inside the building. Patrons were well supplied with bottled water and snacks but we were detained for over four hours in this area with little information made available.”
The couple’s son Cathal at home in Blackrock was able to update his parents via social media as to what was happening at the Airport, which was at this stage completely shut down.
“Reports filtered through that five people were dead and a further six in critical condition and these were later confirmed”, added Pat.
The couple were eventually evacuated and were able to secure a hotel booking thanks to their American hosts and also the Irish Embassy, but due to the fact that there were thousands milling around the taxi areas, disputes among queue members and a tiny amount of taxis being available it was not feasible to get to the hotel at that stage. According to Pat, it was later confirmed that all roads in the vicinity of the Airport were sealed off and long tailbacks in traffic occurred as a result.
“It was an experience which we would not like to go through again but we were some of the lucky ones. The sheer pandemonium and fear on view was quite frightening and what made things worse was not being informed for long periods apart from social media.”
“We would like to thank our U.S.A relatives Phil and Eamon Smyth (formerly of Blackrock ) and their family for their generosity towards us. The Irish Embassy for their support , and all from the Dundalk area who texted / emailed / Skyped us with messages of support over the weekend, also our son Cathal at home who kept all our family and friends fully briefed at all times.”
The couple were relieved to eventually arrive back home to Blackrock on Tuesday morning following their experience.