An on-duty TSA agent jumped to his death inside Orlando International Airport on Saturday morning, according to police and eyewitnesses, shocking onlookers and temporarily grounding flights.
The Orlando Police Department announced a male in his 40s jumped and was pronounced dead, describing the event as an isolated incident. Sgt. Eduardo Bernal told The Daily Beast the man lept from the upper landing of a Hyatt Regency hotel inside the airport. Eyewitnesses told The Daily Beast he was dressed in a TSA agent’s uniform and police said he was an agent working at the time. It’s the latest blow to TSA agents, who were forced to work without pay for weeks during the 35-day government shutdown last month. Hundreds of agents quit, their union said at the time.
Michael Bawo said he was standing in line, waiting to go through security for his flight back home to Nova Scotia, when he saw the man prepare to jump.
“There was a man standing on the outer ledge of the balcony at the very top floor, but he was facing away so I couldn’t see his face,” Bawol told The Daily Beast via email. “It looked like he was repairing something, and I thought to myself, that this was a very dangerous spot to be fixing something.
“At that moment he turned and faced the main hall, extended his arms to the side and let himself fall. I looked away at that moment when I realized he was jumping. I covered my ears, but the sound of impact was still audible. Families and children looked on in shock, and tears started to fall from the people in the area. I was standing about 20 feet from where the man landed. Once the shock set in, the TSA agents at security rushed everyone through and guided us to an exit outside the airport.”
After the fall, police sectioned off the area of the lobby where the man landed and paramedics performed CPR, according to two eyewitnesses, before taking the man away on a stretcher.
Among some of the witnesses were children and their parents staying at the hotel for a dance competition called LA Dance Magic.
James Shaw, a 41-year-old father from Safety Harbor, Florida who brought his 6-year-old daughter to participate in a dance competition, described the moments leading up to the shocking incident.
Shaw said he returned to his 10th floor room to get a snack for his daughter, when he saw the man standing on the balcony, looking at the lobby below. Shaw described the man as a TSA agent.
“I saw him standing there, and I didn’t say anything,” Shaw said. “I didn’t say anything, because at first i thought, ‘this is weird.’ But, because you can literally see all of security there, I thought he was maybe looking for something. It sure did look weird. I thought, ‘oh maybe he’s looking for something.’ I came downstairs. Then you hear boom. People thought it was gunshots. People were running everywhere.”
Shaw said he also believed the sound was a gunshot, and yelled for some nearby kids to get into their room. Then he turned and saw the man at the center of the atrium.
“I knew instantly, because I had just seen him on the 10th floor,” Shaw said.