Officials locked down the main terminal at Ted Stevens International Airport early Sunday morning, with airport police telling people as they evacuated the building that there was a "security breach."
Chilled passengers, many of them in summer clothes from their warm departure cities, huddled in doorways to keep warm. Shortly after 1 a.m., airport shuttle busses began taking them to the North Terminal for a respite from the cold, though the shuttles could only carry a dozen people at a time and there were hundreds who had been evacuated.
A police roadblock was placed across International Airport Road at Spenard Road, preventing people from getting to the terminal to pick up arriving passengers, A long line of traffic stretched east from that intersection along International.
No one was explaining what went wrong or how serious the breach was. In many American airports, a person walking the wrong way through a secured exit has been enough of a reason to evacuate an entire facility until the person could be found. Whether that was the case in Anchorage early Sunday could not be determined.
Typical was the case of passengers arriving on Alaska Airlines flight 143 from Portland. It landed early, a few minutes after midnight, but as the plane pulled toward the gate, it came up short. The pilot came on the intercom and told passengers that "some kind of airport drama" was underway and pointed to the flashing lights of police cars on the tarmac.
The pilot said he was not being allowed to pull all the way up to the gate. No one was telling him what was happening, he said.
After several minutes, the plane did park at the gate. A policeman and a gate agent entered the plane and told passengers they'd have to quickly leave. They wouldn't be allowed to use the rest room at the airport and couldn't pick up their bags. Instead, they were told to quickly follow the agent through a side door that led to the ticketing area and then out to the sidewalk, where hundreds of evacuees were already mingling -- and shivering. The crowd included passengers, airline employees and concession workers.
Angelique Mendez-Mena was among them, having arrived on the flight from Portland. She didn't know whether to wait for an all clear so she could pick up her baggage, or to just walk home.
"If nothing happens in the next hour, I only live about 20 minutes away. I'll just toodle along, or find a taxi," she said. "At least I remembered my gloves."
Reach Richard Mauer at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4345.
By RICHARD MAUER