Here's the news article from Friday's Sun-Sentinel with quotes from Crooked Eye Joey, Marc Hookerman and me.......
Terrorism alert closes airport viewing park
By Ken Kaye
Posted December 6 2002
Most days, a small park on the west side of Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport would overflow with aviation buffs, photographers and people who enjoy watching airplanes while eating lunch.
But that ended when terrorists attempted to shoot down an Israeli airliner with shoulder-launched missiles in Kenya.
In direct response to that near disaster on Thanksgiving Day, the Fort Lauderdale airport closed its popular aircraft viewing area, which is next door to the county's Animal Care and Regulation compound on Southwest 39th Street and a stone's throw from the main runway.
"We haven't determined when or if we'll reopen it," said airport spokesman Jim Reynolds. "It's a very popular location, and there have been a lot of inquiries."
Fort Lauderdale's is one of many airports nationwide to restrict areas near taxiways and runways, either temporarily or permanently, because of the coordinated two-pronged terrorist attacks in Kenya.
On Nov. 28, three suicide bombers crashed a sport utility vehicle loaded with explosives through the gates of a packed seaside Israeli-owned resort, killing 13 people as well as themselves. Minutes earlier, two surface-to-air missiles were fired at a chartered Arika Boeing 757, carrying 261 passengers, as it took off from Mombasa airport bound for Tel Aviv, but missed.
The same day, at the recommendation of the Transportation Security Administration as well as airport trade organizations, Fort Lauderdale airport officials closed their aircraft view area and took other undisclosed security precautions.
Called the Ron Gardner Observation Area, the small park has paved parking, picnic tables and loudspeakers, broadcasting radio conversations between the control tower and pilots. Portals in the nearby airport fence allow photographers to grab easy shots.
First opened in 1997, it would see 50 to 75 people at any given time, with midday and weekends being the most popular.
Frequent visitors were disappointed, saying officials overreacted in closing the area.
"Terrorists using shoulder launched missiles would hardly use the view park to do their damage, especially when spotters and photographers are in the vicinity and would immediately call 911 from their cell phones," said Don Boyd, of Miami Lakes, an aviation photographer.
Marc Hookerman, of St. Louis, said airport officials could "sterilize" an area for 20 miles around an airport and there still would be a threat to airliners.
"Closing viewing lots, chasing away aviation photographers, and creating ongoing restrictions does nothing but remove countless eyes and ears that not only love aviation, but would take any step to protect it," he said.
Some have even pleaded with the Broward County Commission to reopen the viewing area.
"While I concur that we should all be vigilant and cognizant these days given the current geopolitical situation, I plead with you to reopen the lot to the folks who get so much out of it," Joe Pries, a commercial aviation photographer, wrote to Commissioner Lori Parrish.
Pries noted that photographers from New York, Europe, South America, Asia and Australia come specifically to the Fort Lauderdale airport because it offers close up shots and good sunlight.
"These folks, like myself are a great boost to the local economy," he said.
Just the same, airport security and federal officials say for now caution is needed, as they fear a U.S. airliner could be the next target.
U.S. Sen. Bob Graham, D-Florida, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, has called for an immediate tightening of security around airport perimeters.
"Frankly, we are facing a possible extreme spike in the vulnerability to attack inside the United States," he told Fox News on Sunday.
Dave Steigman, spokesman for the Transportation Security Administration, said that agency also is taking a closer look at aircraft viewing areas inside terminals.
Miami International Airport closed viewing areas on its south perimeter road shortly after Sept. 11, 2001, so it didn't need to take additional action after the Kenya attacks, said airport spokeswoman Inson Kim.
"If you do park there, expect a visit from the police," she said.
Palm Beach International Airport has left open its small observation park off Southern Boulevard.
Officials noted that airport inspectors, security personnel and police constantly patrol the grounds of all three of South Florida's main commercial airports.
Ken Kaye can be reached at 954-385-7911 or [email protected]
Copyright © 2002, South Florida Sun-Sentinel