PUNTA GORDA, Fla. - More than a hundred passengers finally landed in Punta Gorda early Saturday morning after an emergency landing in Indiana delayed their arrival by more than twelve hours. Tonight, those passengers are tired, but thankful to have made to southwest Florida safely.
Around 1 p.m. Friday, Allegiant Airlines flight 959 took off from South Bend, Indiana. Soon after, a fire warning light for the cargo area came on and the pilot had to make and emergency landing in Fort Wayne.
"They said put your coats on, take your glasses off, put them away, get ready to put your head between your knees and all that," passenger Shirley Barrick said.
"The pilot did a great job getting us down," passenger Ron Barrick said. "We came down in a hurry, but it wasn't bumpy. They just started jumping off, so we just exited out on the chutes. We've never done that before."
An inspection later determined there was no sign of fire or smoke on board. Passengers waited for a replacement plane from Washington state. They were scheduled to take off at 10 p-m Friday, but then, they face another obstacle.
"After we got going, we got out on the runway and it was snowing so bad," Shirley Barrick said. "They had to stop and take us back to the gate, bring the snow plows out and clean the runway off before we could take off ."
After twelve hours on the ground, flight 959 took off from Fort Wayne, touching down at Punta Gorda Airport just after 4 a.m.
"I had my grandchildren with me and they were very frightened but they were good troopers," passenger Mary Ellen Mount said.
Despite the long day of travel, most were tired, but relieved.
"After all this time, we finally arrived and we are very thankful to be alive really to have made it through," Mount said.
An Allegiant Airlines spokesperson tells WINK News, safety was their number one priority and the crew reacted to the situation as they were trained to do. They are reimbursing any passengers who rented a car to drive back to South Bend, and paid for hotels for those who chose not to travel overnight. Passengers will also be given free roundtrip tickets for future travel.
The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating why that warning light came on.