JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The Jacksonville International Airport was shut down for nearly five hours Tuesday night, stranding incoming planeloads of passengers on the tarmac, after police found two suspicious packages, one of which was deemed “destructive” and had to be deactivated offsite by a bomb squad.
The airport was evacuated shortly after 6 p.m. Tuesday when police found one suspicious package in the terminal and another in a nearby parking garage, Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office spokesman Shannon Hartley told a news conference at 11 p.m., just after the airport reopened.
Hartley said one of the packages “had some destructive nature that it had to be taken offsite” but he did not elaborate.
He would not say which of the packages was destructive, and said he could not confirm local news media reports that two suspects had been arrested.
When authorities decided to evacuate the terminal and shut down the airport, some incoming planes were held up on the tarmac until buses could arrive to pick up the passengers, airport spokesman Michael Stewart said. He could not say how many planes were held up or for how long. Airport officials tweeted shortly after the evacuation that passengers on inbound flights would be bused to offsite hotels as transportation became available.
No flights were allowed to take off following the evacuation.
Arlie Gentry, a passenger who arrived on a flight from New York via Baltimore, said the Southwest Airlines plane he was on landed just before 6:30 p.m.
“We moved from one spot on the runway to another spot,” Gentry said. “They told us we couldn’t get off the plane.”
The pilots couldn’t initially tell the passengers why, claiming they didn’t know themselves, Gentry said.
Gentry said the delay was cumbersome and bothersome, but everyone on his plane remained calm. He said he was never really concerned for his safety, because the plane remained so far from the terminal.
Gentry said a bus arrived about 9:30 p.m. to start taking passengers to a nearby hotel.