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    Attacks shut skies over Tampa Bay

    By JEAN HELLER and AMY HERDY

    © St. Petersburg Times,
    published September 12, 2001


    TAMPA -- By 10 a.m., the word "Canceled" filled the spaces beside the flights on every arrival and departure board at Tampa International Airport.

    [Times photo: Cherie Diez]
    TIA police Detective Frank Major patrols Tuesday with Apollo, a Labrador trained to find explosives.
    In the Landside terminal, knots of people gathered before every available television set, their bodies taut with tension, their expressions etched by horror rapidly escalating toward the unbearable.

    By noon, most stranded passengers had fled to homes or hotels, giving up on the notion of flying for the day -- and possibly for longer. The airsides shut down. One after another, so did retail operations in the main terminal.

    No final decision had been made Tuesday night about when air operations at TIA and throughout the country would resume. The Federal Aviation Administration said flights would start up again no sooner than noon today and possibly later.

    Passengers should contact their airlines for updates on schedules and ticketing.

    Operations also ceased at St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport and other local airports. Tenants went through security review with airport officials.

    Louis Miller, executive director of the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority, was in Montreal with some of his staff for an international aviation meeting when the attacks occurred.

    "The minister of transportation for Canada was talking to us when it happened," Miller said in a phone interview. "Everyone was in a state of shock."

    Miller, who rented a van and said he would try to make the drive from Montreal back to Tampa in 30 hours, and he did not expect operations to return to normal quickly.

    "It's not only going to take a while for the airports to reopen, it's going to take a while for the airlines to reposition their planes," he said. "Things just don't return to normal in an hour or two."

    When planes begin flying again, passengers probably will encounter heightened security, though the FAA said late Tuesday there had been no decision on what form that would take. It likely will include not only passengers and their baggage, but the gamut of those who work at airports, particularly those who have access to aircraft.

    TIA went to heightened security 10 years ago, during the Persian Gulf War, and never relaxed it. There have been several security scares since.

    Late in 1998, a man who had what appeared to be a handgun in his bag, picked up the carry-on and walked away before security screeners spotted the weapon. Another man, whose bag tested positive for explosive residue, also walked away before screeners noticed the results of the scan.

    Ed Cooley, senior director for operations at TIA, said he learned of about the attacks at 8:45 Tuesday morning. Before 10 a.m., he had the FAA directive that all planes on the ground had to stay there and other flights were being diverted to the nearest airports.

    TIA got eight unscheduled landings, one each by American, TWA and Delta and five by Continental.

    Planes on the ground at Tampa overnight were protected by police patrols.

    As passengers in the terminal watched the attack and the aftermath, many reacted with anger.

    "If President Bush doesn't do something drastic in response to this, he'll never get re-elected," said George Tragos, a Clearwater lawyer who had been headed to Chicago before all flights were grounded. "No one should be allowed to shut down this country. No one."

    Perhaps the last people to hear about the tragedies in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania were those actually in the air.

    "I was wondering why a woman meeting her husband at the gate grabbed him and started crying," said Bess Lee of Port Charlotte, who landed on a scheduled flight from Newark. "Our flight was beautiful, and it seemed like a normal Tuesday at the airport."

    Other passengers also reported that their flight crews told them nothing.

    "And I'm just as glad they didn't," said Paulette Scheib, who flew to Tampa from Nashville. "It's unbelievable."

    Susan Frame, who was born in Manhattan and now lives in Sarasota, had just dropped off her aunt at the airport when she heard about the attacks in New York. She turned around and returned to TIA.

    "We were just up there, visiting," Frame said, visibly shaken. "We were in the World Trade Center. It's very upsetting. The chaos must be incredible."

    Also caught up in events were Elinor and Monti Arel of Tel Aviv, who were in the middle of a three-week honeymoon in the United States.

    "We just thought (we needed) to get away from everything in our country," Elinor said.

    - Times staff writers Thomas C. Tobin, Pamela Davis and Alicia Caldwell contributed to this report.

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