9/13/01: Grounded flight leaving Willard today

9/13/01: Grounded flight leaving Willard today

This story originally appeared on Sept. 13, 2001.

SAVOY — US Airways passengers and crew members stranded in Champaign-Urbana were tentatively scheduled to be on the first plane flying out of Willard Airport since the nation's air traffic was grounded Tuesday morning.

The passengers were to be picked up from local hotels late this morning and brought to the airport by noon, with plans to fly out at 2 p.m. for Charlotte, N.C., a US Airways hub, rather than their original destination of Seattle, said University of Illinois spokeswoman Robin Kaler. How the passengers would make connections from there to Seattle was still undetermined, she said.

Kaler said all luggage and cargo will be taken off the plane and each passenger will have to identify his or her own baggage before it is loaded again.

The status of other air travel was still undetermined, Kaler said. Passengers previously scheduled for flights were advised to call their airlines or check airline Web sites for updates.

The US Airways passengers and others will be subject to new heightened security measures at Willard, Kaler said. They included passing through metal detectors set on a higher level of sensitivity, possible hand searches of baggage, and a prohibition on parking within 300 feet of the airport terminal.

Capt. Capt. Bob Smith, the pilot on board the US Airways flight, said he received word Wednesday afternoon that it would be at least until today that the plane would be cleared to leave.

"I think it ties in directly with the security precautions enacted in the last few hours," he said.

The US Airways flight was carrying 89 passengers and six crew members, many of whom have been waiting out the delay in local hotels.

One of the stranded passengers, Charlotte Marchakitus of Dallas, Pa., happened to have a son living nearby in Rantoul.

"They were concerned about me. They knew we were flying yesterday," said Marchakitus, 76. "It just so happened that one plane landed in Champaign, and it was ours."

Marchakitus said her son and daughter-in-law were away in Missouri at the time, but came right home, and they all had dinner together Tuesday night.

Marchakitus was at the Park Inn in Urbana, rooming with three other passengers from the flight headed from Philadelphia to Seattle. She and her friend, Carole Schmig of Lehman, Pa., were on their way to a 13-day cruise in Alaska.

Marchakitus said she's not sure how she'll feel about getting back on another plane but will probably board when the time comes.

"We'll have to go," she said. "We've got all our money in this trip."

Marchakitus said she felt safe enough on the plane Tuesday, but when she called her family in Pennsylvania she broke down.

"One of my granddaughters answered the phone, and I started crying," she said.

Fellow passenger Connie Case was waiting it out at the Chancellor Inn in Champaign and spending most of her time in her room, she said.

"I've been glued most of the time to the television to get any updates on air travel, and to find out what's going on, securitywise, across the U.S., and also making contact with family at home," she said.

Case, 50, of Yakima, Wash., said she had been on vacation in Washington, D.C., and had boarded the US Airways flight there before it stopped in Philadelphia.

Case said two of her friends remain stranded in Washington, D.C. They were attending a conference, and she left ahead of them.

Both friends said they could see smoke coming from the Pentagon, "and they said there were just FBI all over the streets," she said.

Case said she has been impressed with Champaign-Urbana during her wait.

"One thing I've appreciated about this area is the university and the things that they're doing, and all the people donating blood and contributing money," she said. "I just think the response from this community has been really good. So if I have to be stranded, I got in the right place."

Jill Guth, chief operating officer of the Champaign County Economic Development Corp., said the community had plenty of hotel rooms available.

"We had 500 rooms available yesterday (Tuesday)."

Guth said some passengers sought out hotel rooms, and some went in search of alternative transportation.

This story originally appeared on Sept. 13, 2001.

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