My vacation got off to a rather adventurous start. As I was exiting the restaurant at John Wayne Airport, a rather stern-faced Orange County Sheriff stopped me from approaching my gate, Gate 6, and motioned me to the side of the main terminal thoroughfare. It was at that point that I realized that the entire left half of the terminal, from Gate 7 through Gate 1, was lined on both sides with Orange County Sheriffs standing roughly fifteen feet apart. Each of them was standing at guard, with their right hands on their sidearms. The leather safety straps which fixed their guns to their holsters were unbuttoned for unrestricted drawing. These officers meant business.
Since the zone I was restricted to was right next to Gate 7, I had a front row seat as the passengers were forced to disembark under armed escort. They traversed a gauntlet of sheriffs and suspicious or curious travelers before being placed in a holding area at the end of the terminal where I was told they were to be detained. I felt the sorriest for one of the last sets of people to leave the plane; a large, Middle Eastern family. The women in their traditional hijabs seemed to visibly wilt as the walked down the long aisle. The men grew angrier, while the children seemed aware that something was wrong.
After the interior of the plane was searched, the passengers were allowed back on. The OC Sheriffs gathered in small clusters, conversing quietly while eyeing the passengers. I didn't notice the Middle Eastern family get back on board the plane, although I kept my eye out for them.
Once the passengers were back on the plane, their luggage was unloaded onto the tarmac and systematically examined by officers with police dogs.
(Video of Orange County Sheriffs searching luggage.)
As the last call went out for any remaining passengers to re-board, I finally learned that the plane in questions was flight 217 bound for Phoenix, Arizona.
At this point, boarding began for my flight to San Jose, so I had to stop taking pictures. I never did learn the reason that the flight was searched or the passengers detained. The OC Sheriffs were all tight-lipped when asked and my Google searches over the next several days turned up no news or articles about the incident, which occurred at roughly 1:00pm Thanksgiving afternoon.
If anyone can shed some light on what it was I witnessed, I'd very much appreciate it.
For those of you with sharp eyes, all of my pictures were taken after the passengers started re-boarding the plane. Before that, the twin lines of Sheriffs were keeping such a sharp eye out that any attempt to take pictures or video would have instantly been noticed given where I was standing. The officers weren't taking any chances. They were watching both us and the passengers like hawks.
Apologies to those of you here for the food articles. This is my only non-food post from this trip.