A terminal at Orlando International Airport was evacuated and incoming flights were grounded Saturday morning after a Transportation Security Administration officer jumped to his death, police and witnesses said.
The officer, described by the Orlando, Florida, police as a man in his 40s, had just clocked out of work before jumping from a balcony of the Hyatt Regency in the airport atrium about 9:30 a.m.
“The TSA confirms that an on-duty officer fell from a hotel balcony inside Orlando International Airport this morning and is deceased,” said Jenny Burke, a spokeswoman for the agency. “Our thoughts and prayers go out to the officer’s family, friends and everyone in our TSA family.”
Police said on Twitter that “preliminary information suggests an apparent suicide.”
The sound of the man crashing to the floor caused passengers to flee unscreened into a restricted area, Burke said. Crowds of passengers were being rescreened on Saturday afternoon. Officials said flight operations were starting to return to normal about 12:30 p.m. Saturday. The Federal Aviation Administration issued a halt to inbound flights that was lifted at 11:30 a.m.
Michael Bawol, 32, was traveling home to Halifax, Nova Scotia, after a week of work in Florida when he saw a man standing on the outer ledge of a balcony on the top floor of the hotel, he said.
“It looked like he was repairing something, and I thought to myself that this was a very dangerous spot to be fixing something,” Bawol wrote in an email. “At that moment, he turned and faced the main hall, extended his arms to the side and let himself fall.”
Bawol, who said he was about 20 feet away, looked away when he realized the man was jumping.
“I covered my ears, but the sound of impact was still audible,” he said.
Adults and children began crying when they realized what had happened. TSA agents rushed in and guided passengers to the terminal exits. Paramedics tried to revive the man before moving him to a stretcher.
Police said the man, whose name was not released, was taken to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
Another witness, Greg Oswald, a psychologist from Plainfield, Illinois, was returning home after a Disney cruise with his wife and four children when he heard passengers gasping and screaming.
“All the families and everyone there is just watching in horror,” Oswald said. “I was anxious and scared and very worried for my family.”
During the partial government shutdown, TSA workers at several major airports around the country were working without pay and began to call in sick in increasing numbers, union and airport management officials.
Rep. Darren Soto, D-Fla., said on Twitter: “Our @TSA Officers have already suffered so much during the #GovernmentShutdown. This apparent suicide only adds to tragedy experienced at Orlando Int’l. Our prayers go out to his family and co-workers after this difficult loss.”