Chaos Erupts at Newark Airport as Travelers Are Evacuated From Terminal

Panicked travelers abandoned carry-on bags and scrambled for the exits at a Newark Liberty International Airport terminal on Monday night, just as the busy three-day Labor Day weekend was drawing to a close.

An Alaska Airlines employee at Gate 30 in Terminal A grew suspicious of two male passengers as they were about to board a flight, according to Steve Coleman, a spokesman for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which runs the airport.

The airline employee tried to confront the men and then pulled a fire alarm, which led to the evacuation around 8:30 p.m., the authorities said. It was not immediately clear what had prompted the flight attendant to be suspicious of the men, who were later questioned by the police and then allowed to board.

A spokeswoman for Alaska Airlines, Oriana Branon, said the carrier was still gathering information about the episode.

“Alaska Airlines is aware of an incident that occurred today at EWR,” Ms. Branon said in an email. “We are currently investigating and will provide additional details as we find out more.”

The authorities were also questioning the airline employee who had prompted the evacuation.

Police officers with tactical rifles converged on the terminal, with some travelers seeking refuge on the airport tarmac.

The airport returned to normal operations just before 9 p.m., with shaken airline passengers returning to personal items strewn all over the gate area in Terminal A after the latest episode to unnerve people in public settings.

David Lombardi, 30, a sportswriter for The Athletic website, said in an interview that he had been waiting for a flight to San Francisco at Terminal A when he heard an Alaska Airlines flight attendant yell “evacuate.”

“I dove on the ground,” Mr. Lombardi said. “I thought it was an active shooter. I went under the seats at the airport. There were people sprinting out of the terminal. We live in a world where people think there’s an active shooter everywhere.”

An hour after the scare, he returned to try to find his luggage.

“There are bags and belongings scattered everywhere,” he said.

The pilot told passengers there was police activity, according to Mr. Gelles, who said his flight was parked at the gate for about an hour. When passengers were finally allowed to leave the plane, Mr. Gelles said, about two dozen Port Authority officers and New York Police Department counterterrorism officers in tactical gear were waiting at the gate.

In a Twitter direct message, Erin Fors, a public relations executive with Cutline Communications who was at the airport during the scare, said chaos had spread quickly.

“As we were starting to board, a flight attendant on my flight exited the plane, talked to the gate agents, became clearly agitated and started screaming ‘evacuate,’” Ms. Fors said. “People ran, hid, screamed. Everything you would do when you hear ‘evacuate’ in an airport. Many people exited to the tarmac. Police and SWAT arrived. They ushered us in once clear. Nobody said what happened though there was speculation that someone was in custody. It was frankly terrifying.”

Patrick McGeehan and James Williamson contributed reporting.

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