Jubilant Passengers Return From Panama On Eastern Flight With PM-Panama, Bjt
Dec. 22, 1989
MIAMI (AP) _ A jetliner brought back jubilant passengers from Panama today who told of being stunned by the outbreak of battle, then being confronted by belligerent Panamanian soldiers at their hotel.
Eastern Airlines Flight 8302, with 57 passengers and eight crew members, was the first large commercial flight from Panama to arrive at this international air travel hub.
Most of the passengers, many of them disheveled and tired, were from the Caribbean and Latin America and had been guests at the besieged Marriott Hotel in Panama City. Several said the Panamanian soldiers questioned them and took away the American citizens who were at the hotel.
Those on the flight said they either were aided by Marriott Hotel employees to hide from Panamanian soldiers or were liberated when American soldiers retook the hotel.
''The flight back was completely euphoric,'' said Colin Cleary, who lives in Colombia with his wife and 18-month-old child. ''We were so grateful to Eastern to get us back. We had been stuck at (Howard Air Force Base) since 1 Thursday afternoon.
''We were happy and relieved,'' he said of the passengers. ''A lot of us were sleeping on the plane because we haven't had much sleep.''
Some passengers told of being under fire as they were taken to the air base. While U.S. officials have described the continuing operation in Panama as ''mopping up,'' Moses Leader, a Jamaican, said it looked like a continuing battle to him.
''Downtown Panama City is in rubble,'' he said. ''The Americans underestimated the staying power of the PDF,'' Panama's armed forces.
''We had to take cover at the air base. We had to get away from the glass,'' he said.
Several told of being helped by hotel employees when Panamanian soldiers arrived early Wednesday.
''Between 2:30 and 3 a.m., the goon squads entered the hotel. They went directly to the 11th floor where there was the biggest concentration of Americans,'' said Joe Clark, a 58-year-old Miami businessman.
Uta Baker, a 45-year-old flight attendant wearing a tuxedo jacket given her by a Marriott maitre d', said she saw flares going up in the middle of the night and thought it was a celebration.
''I went back to sleep and at 6 in the morning, the captain called and told us we were under siege,'' she said.
Fairborn Maxwell, a 45-year-old Jamaican, was upset because he was gambling in the casino when the Panamanians stormed the hotel. They briefly held him but released him when they found he was not American.
He brought his chips back to Miami, because he couldn't cash them in.
''I was winning with a stack of chips when they came in and took us,'' he said ruefully.