Passengers who evacuated JFK terminals Sunday said there was a lack of communication and coordination.
(Danny Iudici/for New York Daily News)
NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Wednesday, August 17, 2016, 10:05 PM
One second Julie Gaughran was waiting for a flight kicking off her dream vacation to Paris.
The next she and her 17-year-old son were caught in a nightmarish scene at Kennedy Airport when bogus reports of gunfire triggered multiple stampedes and more than two hours of panicked chaos and confusion.
“It was terrifying,” Gaughran, 57, told the Daily News Wednesday from her home in Chappaqua, Westchester County.
“There was no management of the situation. There was not a word from any official the whole night. I saw this characterized as an evacuation of the airport. That is a lie. No one told us to evacuate. Everybody was fending for themselves.”
Gaughran’s account emerged three days after an incident that exposed what many travelers, officials and cops have called a frightening lack of communication and coordination at one of the nation’s busiest airports.
In the wake of the debacle, Gov. Cuomo ordered a full examination of the Port Authority’s response — and Patrick Foye, the agency’s executive director, initiated an “after-action” review.
Gaughran was waiting near Gate 10 in Terminal 1 about 10 p.m. Sunday when she was jolted by the sound of a giant stampede.
Julie Gaughran and her son Whit Anderson were inside Terminal 1 during the stampede Sunday.
“All of a sudden I just hear this thunderous, deafening noise and saw hundreds of people running through Terminal 1,” Gaughran recalled.
Fearing a terror attack, Gaughran raced to find her son Whit Anderson who had skipped away to buy a neck pillow.
The pair reunited and immediately dove under a row of chairs near the gate.
“It was complete utter chaos,” Anderson said. “I kept thinking this must be an attack.”
They cowered under the chairs for roughly five minutes as waves of panicked travelers raced by.
Gaughran and her son eventually joined a second stampede of fliers that sprinted out of the gate and onto the tarmac.
Arriving passengers ducked for cover over fears of a possible shooter on the loose.
“I was stunned. I kept thinking, ‘Where are the police?’ ” Gaughran said. “There was no communication whatsoever, not a word. No one was in charge.”
They remained outside for nearly 20 minutes, still without any guidance from airport officials or authorities.
Other passengers started heading back toward the gate.
“But I’m thinking, ‘We don’t know if this is OK,’ ” Gaughran recalled. “We have no information. We don’t know what’s going on.”
The pair inched close to the gate and peered inside.
“Everyone is screaming, running, pushing,” Gaughran said.
Scared travelers fled Terminal 1 without knowing what was going on.
(Danny Iudici/for New York Daily News)
Back outside, a “young cop who looked scared to death” told the mother and son to drop down and stay put.
They ignored the orders and wound up hopping on an airport bus hoping to get whisked away from the scene.
Instead, they found themselves standing beside dozens of other frantic passengers clamoring for information — and a driver who was as in the dark as they were.
Gaughran finally learned what was going on when they reached her other son by phone.
“He said, ‘It’s OK. There’s no shooter,’ ” Gaughran recalled. “He knew more than we did.”
About 2 a.m., nearly four hours after the incident started, she and her son finally left the airport, leaving behind their luggage.
The Aug. 17, 2016, cover of the Daily News focuses on the inadequate response to the JFK scare.
(New York Daily News)
Officials would later say that the “gunshots” were in fact the sounds of a large group cheering on Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt’s run for Olympic gold.
Gaughran’s account was echoed by other travelers and airline employees.
Author Michael D’Antonio and his wife Toni were waiting for a flight to Norway when they saw a half dozen screaming flight attendants running through Terminal 1.
They hid under seats, then rushed behind a screen set up near a window overlooking the tarmac.
A gate agent told him there was a shooting downstairs. A uniformed TSA worker told him he had barricaded himself in a locked closet. At one point, D’Antonio found an officer and asked him if they should evacuate.
“I guess so,” came the response.
Travelers huddle in fear Sunday night during panic at JFK. Passengers said there were no directions from authorities and police were not helpful.
(BRIGITTE DUSSEAU/AFP/Getty Images)
He and his wife made it outside the terminal and ultimately to their car but not before she was knocked to the ground by a surge of fleeing travelers.
“This is a scandal,” said D’Antonio, 61. “I kept thinking to myself, ‘If this was Tel Aviv, it wouldn’t have happened like this.’ ”
Even an American Airlines flight attendant decried the handling of the incident.
The attendant named Olivia described on her blog how she and her colleagues were given conflicting orders from officers inside and outside one of the terminals.
Eventually, she recounted, one of the officers said, “Sit down here. I don’t know what to tell you anymore.”