CLEVELAND — A man driving through an airfield gate and running on the Cleveland Hopkins International Airport runway caused the airport to delay or divert thousands of passengers and their families, according to Cleveland police.
Jay Bell was on a flight back home after visiting Houston when he got a message from his pilot.
"When you're on a plane and you hear security issues, that was nerve-wracking for everyone," Bell said.
His United flight was stuck in the air. Nine flights were affected, four having delays and five different diversions, impacting thousands of travelers and their families, the airport told News 5.
Cleveland police say a 26-year-old man from Brunswick crashed through an airport gate around 8:30 p.m. and continued driving towards the runway before taking off on foot.
Bell, who was getting updated from his pilot while circling around the state, said his mind started racing.
"It did take time for them to actually apprehend him," he said. "They went through there, now what could they have done in there while they were in there? Those types of thoughts always run in your head."
He had no cell service to call members of his family and assumed the worst. At first, the pilot just gave a blanket statement saying there was some kind of security issue, so no one could land, he added. The airline gave another update soon after, but the damage was done and the plane was dead silent and people were anxious, he said.
"Literally it was only like 5 minutes, but it felt like it was five hours because your mind is racing," he said, noting the time between the first update and the second.
When police arrived to the airport, they found a large hole in the gate and the wire fencing was peeled back, according to the police report.
Turns out, 15 minutes before the airport breach, a woman called Fairview Park police about that same man. She called authorities to the 21000 block of Brookpark Road, reporting that the man knocked her to the ground and stole her car while she was driving around searching for her lost pet, according to FPPD.
While looking for her pet, she got out of her car and left it running. The woman tried chasing the vehicle and sustained minor injuries.
Back at the airport — Cleveland police say the man admitted to stealing the car once he was in custody. Fairview Park anticipates the man will be charged in Rocky River Municipal Court on Monday.
Although he is glad the man was detained, Bell wants answers to how he could have gotten onto an airport runway.
"It just brings back the anxiety more," he added. "And that's what keeps on my mind, more as of 'oh, I hope I ever have to go through something like that again.'"
He is now considering buying tickets at other airports for his future flights, since this has been traumatizing, he said.
Delta Airlines confirmed to News 5 that all Delta flights that were diverted returned to Cleveland Wednesday night.
At approximately 9:00 p.m. Wednesday a person drove through an airfield gate at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport (CLE). To maintain the highest level of safety and security, operations were temporarily on hold. Cleveland Division of Police has apprehended the suspect. CLE is in the process of resuming normal airport operations. This investigation is ongoing.
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