Alaska Airlines Employee Yells 'Evacuate;' Causes Mass Panic At Newark Airport

Photo: getty
Alaska Airlines Employee Yells 'Evacuate;' Causes Mass Panic At Newark Airport

Newark Airport was thrown into chaos on Labor Day when an employee ordered everyone in the terminal to evacuate before pulling an alarm. Over 200 people fled in terror, not knowing what they were trying to escape. 

It turned out the culprit was racism. 

An employee of Alaska Airlines had been watching and interrogating two passengers who were waiting for a flight to San Francisco. The men, who were both of Chinese descent, said they had been minding their own business when the employee started asking them odd and paranoid-sounding questions. After she walked away from them, she pulled the alarm and screamed at other passengers to evacuate. When she later saw the men speaking with police, she yelled: "We got them motherf*ckers!” 

The two men were allowed to board their flights but they haven't gotten any sort of explanation from the airline. 

Who are Han Han Xue And Chunyi Luo? Keep reading to learn more. 

1. Standing too close

In an interview with Buzzfeed News, 20-year-old student Chunyi Luo said an Alaska Airlines employee started questioning him as he waited to board a flight. Luo is from Shanghai but has been in the US for two years to study finance. He says he was waiting for his flight, which was delayed, when an Alaska Airlines employee started circling around him and asking him why he was nervous. He explained that his agitation was because of the flight delay. She told him that lots of flights are delayed int the US, but he recalls that she stood "too close" to him. 

2. Heading home from New York

BuzzFeed News also spoke to Han Han Xue, who said he was at the airport to catch a return flight to San Fransisco after spending a weekend with friends in New York. Xue, who works for Lyft in San Fransisco, is a Canadian citizen. After asking if he and Luo knew each other — they didn't — the employee started asking him a series of paranoid-sounding questions "How much are they paying you?" she said, without clarifying who "they" were. "Did they give you a visa? Did they give your family a visa? Do you make a lot of money? Do you work on Wall Street? Are you on an American visa?" Xue recalls that she asked him. Xue says he moved away from her to stand with another group of passengers waiting for the same flight but she called out to him "I'm onto you guys. The cops are already called."

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3. Evacuate order sparks chaos

After speaking to the two passengers, the employee returned to her desk. There, she pulled a fire alarm and yelled: "Evacuate!" All the passengers in the terminal started running for the exits, abandoning bags behind them. Some passengers exited the airport onto the tarmac, while others ran for the security checkpoint. Video from the incident shows panic and chaos as people tried to flee with no direction from security or idea why they were running. The alarm prompted on-site police officers with tactical rifles to converge on the terminal, trying to assess the possible threat, not realizing that the situation was due to an employee acting irrationally.

People fled, leaving their belongings behind.

4. Fears of a shooter

In a sign of the times, a number of passengers immediately assumed there was an active shooter in the terminal. With the memory of mass shootings in Dayton and El Paso fresh in everyone's minds, plus the underlying knowledge that mass shootings happen on a weekly basis in the U.S., passengers feared that they would be shot in the airport. David Lombardi, a sportswriter who was evacuated while waiting for a flight spoke with the New York Times about the experience. "I dove on the ground. I thought it was an active shooter," he said "I went under the seats at the airport. There were people sprinting out of the terminal. We live in a world where people think there’s an active shooter everywhere.”

Another passenger, Michael Wolfmuller, told Buzzfeed News, "I heard the word 'shooter' when we were running." He continued, "I thought I was going to get shot in the back. With everything that's been happening the last few months, that's pretty much what I was waiting for."

Even Luo thought a shooter was the danger.  "I thought somebody had a gun," he told BuzzFeed News. "Everyone is running. I just followed them and escaped."

A passenger filmed the chaos.

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5. "It's escalated way too fast"

Once police started arriving on the scene and Xue had a moment to think about it, he realized that the unsettling encounter with the Alaska Airlines employee might have been the reason behind the evacuation order. "I'm like, 'So, 90% chance I have something to do with this and it's escalated way too fast,'" he told BuzzFeed News. He decided to approach the cops and tell them his story, though he was very nervous about doing so. "Intellectually, I know I didn't do anything wrong and that I can explain my way out of the situation," said Xue. "But the only time I was really anxious was when the cops first showed up."

The officers spoke with Xue and asked where Luo was, which he didn't know since they weren't acquainted. They located Luo in the crowd and asked them two men "Why do you think she thought you were suspicious?"  Xue replied that he didn't know "other than the fact we are both East Asian."

As the men were speaking to police, the Alaska Airlines employee came out and spotted them. "We got them motherf*ckers,” she yelled, according to Xue.

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6. Resuming normal operations

After about 30 minutes, security cleared the terminal for normal operations. The San Francisco flight was eventually canceled and all the passengers were taken to a nearby hotel, where they bonded over the odd events of the night. Everyone eventually got where they were going, with Alaska Airlines making a blanket apology to everyone affected. "We understand the Newark issue was alarming and distressing for our guests and other flyers, and for that we are deeply sorry," said spokesperson Oriana Branon. "We are conducting a thorough investigation of the incident and gathering witness statements to understand what exactly took place and why this happened."

After the events, a source told CBS2 in New York that the employee in question had bipolar disorder and that might have been the cause of her erratic behavior. However, Xue notes that mental illness shouldn't be an excuse for racial profiling. "If she does have issues, it's on Alaska to make sure she's not placed in a position where she is responsible for the safety of others," he said.

At this time, Alaska Airlines has offered the men no explanation for what happened. It is not clear if the employee is still working for the airline. 

Rebekah Kuschmider has been writing about celebrities, pop culture, entertainment, and politics since 2010. Her work has been seen at Ravishly, Babble, Scary Mommy, The Mid, Redbook online, and The Broad Side. She is the creator of the blog Stay at Home Pundit and she is a cohost of the weekly podcast The More Perfect Union.