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