Flight 833

Author: Pastor Don W. McFarlane
January 19, 2017

Waiting to board Flight 833 to Montego Bay, I was reading emails, sending text messages, browsing the

news headlines, when suddenly the mood in the waiting area changed. The reason for the sudden

atmospheric alteration eluded me until a woman shouted, “Somebody is shooting people in this

airport.” We were in Terminal 4 and soon learned that the shooting was in Terminal 2.


It soon became clear that the tragedy unfolding a few hundred yards from where we were sitting was

bigger than first thought. We eventually learned that 5 people were killed and several more wounded.

Spirit Flight 833 to Montego Bay was scheduled to leave at 2:07 p.m., and despite the tragedy in

Terminal 2, we were allowed to start boarding at approximately 1:30 p.m. Our plane began making its

way to the runway at 2:15, when an announcement came from the captain that the FBI had placed the

airport on lockdown and that we would not be allowed to take off as scheduled.


After six hours we were still sitting on the plane and had not moved an inch. Apart from bored, hungry

and tired children, passengers were pretty calm and self-controlled. However, initially every man who

left his seat and headed for the rest room caused a bit of restlessness in the cabin. The woman sitting

beside me remarked when a heavily tattooed, hippy-looking man with a wide grin made his way to the

rest room, “Where is he going? I don’t feel comfortable with him going to the restroom.” There was a

palpable sigh of relief as he emerged from the restroom and returned to his seat.

Six hours sitting in a tube on the tarmac was followed by nearly five hours standing in a crowd of several

thousands outside the airport terminals as we waited on busses to take us to a big shelter at Port

Everglades. Private vehicles and taxis were not being allowed on site. I eventually reached the shelter at

2:00 a.m. and water and cookies never tasted as good as those which we got from the Red Cross as we

entered the huge hall.


George Harrison’s “Here Comes the Sun” startled half-asleep passengers as it was played at an

alarmingly high volume over the PA system. I checked my watch…it was only 4:30 a.m. Tired and dazed,

we were told that there were busses outside to take us back to the airport. Back at the airport, I was

able to secure a seat on Flight 833 again, scheduled to leave at 2:07 for Montego Bay. Pleased that I

would arrive in Jamaica that day to see my ailing father, I ordered breakfast, only to learn afterwards

that Flight 833 would be three hours delayed. Three hours became five hours, and the flight was

eventually cancelled. If I were a superstitious person, I would avoid all 833 flights in future!

It wasn’t until the following day that I finally reached my parents’ home in Jamaica, nearly three days

after leaving my home in the DC area. I have many stories to tell my grandchildren about my

experiences at Fort Lauderdale Airport. I wish I could include in those stories that grand-dad

courageously disarmed the gunman as he was about to shoot the first victim. Sadly, no one did, resulting

in loved ones being ripped away from their families.


My Fort Lauderdale ordeal taught me that we are not in total control of our lives. We have no control

over others and what they might do to affect us. We also have no control over many situations in which

we find ourselves. I was also reminded of the fragility of life and the fact that none of us knows whether

we will be alive tomorrow. Thus we need to make the best of each moment. This is what the psalmist

means when he says, “Teach us to number our days.” The best each of us can do in life is ensure that

God, who is never taken by surprise, is in control of our lives. If He is, we can face any situation with

utmost confidence.



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