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Passengers Travel With Fear, Resignation Amid Heightened Security

July 18, 1996

Dorothea Smith waited for the plane from Paris at Newark International airport Thursday with relief in her heart and a knot in her stomach.

The 43-year-old French teacher from York, Pa. had accompanied her own class of high school students on their first trip to Paris in June.

Now all she could think of was another French class from Pennsylvania - the sixteen students killed in the explosion of TWA Flight 800. It was hard not to feel an eerie sense of guilt at being alive as she waited for her 17-year-old daughter Jennifer to return safely home.

``I was just so happy that she was coming instead of going today,″ Smith said softly.

Wednesday night’s disaster cast an uneasy pall over America’s airports Thursday, as security was heightened and relief mixed with fear for passengers both horrified and humbled by the explosion that took 228 lives.

``I see police all over the place,″ said Constantin Diomis of Tompkins Lakes, N.J., as he waited for his wife and children to arrive on a TWA flight from Paris at Kennedy Airport.

But by early afternoon at Kennedy , the police were gone and the only security inside the terminal was the customary metal detector.

``I am not afraid. If the Lord wants you, you’re going to be going. I trust in the Lord,″ said Sister Elizabeth Ann, a nun from Oklahoma City, as she waited for a TWA flight to Evansville, Ind.

Others put their faith in tougher security measures.

At Hartsfield Atlanta International Airport, passenger Frank Benaquista was reassured by the beep of a metal detector that seemed more sensitive than usual. ``When I went through, my glasses set it off. Then they swept me. That’s the first time that’s ever happened,″ Benaquista said.

The Olympics had already brought heightened security measures to Atlanta, but organizers said they hoped to increase security further in the wake of the disaster.

``We have been informed that security measures have been tightened in connection with everything related to flights, airport procedure and control,″ said Francois Carrard, director general of the International Olympic Committee. ``This is the logical reaction which should be taken.″

Many other airports have had tight security in place since the World Trade Center bombing in 1993, and the Federal Aviation Administration ordered stepped-up measures for all airports last October after a group of militant Muslims were found guilty in a New York terrorism trial.

Further security measures were added in Chicago in preparation for next month’s Democratic National Convention.

In general, the increased security measures amount to requests for picture identification, a ban on curbside parking, and stricter baggage checks.

FAA Spokesman Bob Hawk said that there are several stages of security, ranging from level 1 to level 4, intended to address different levels of concern. FAA and airport officials wouldn’t be specific about the categories, saying they don’t want to alert terrorists.

National airport security is now at level 3, according to a federal official speaking on condition of anonymity.

If security were increased further, it would mean no parked cars at the curb, identification required to get into the terminal and no curbside check-in, according to Tom Middlemiss, a spokesman for the authority that runs Kennedy Airport.

However hesitant officials were about security details, passengers clearly sensed heightened awareness in airports Thursday as suitcases were double-checked and people were asked for extra identification.

While the overall mood of passengers was somber, the disruption to flights appeared minimal. Most people seemed resigned to the random nature of airline terror.

``They don’t explode twice in one week,″ said Ana Rodrigues, 30, of Lisbon, Portugal, as she prepared to board TWA flight 34 in Los Angeles, a nonstop to New York’s Kennedy that connects to Paris-bound flight 800.

Fellow passenger Mike Minkow of Los Angeles wasn’t quite as upbeat.

``This is everybody’s worst nightmare, a plane exploding and crashing to Earth,″ Minkow said. ``My only hope is that lightning doesn’t strike twice.″

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