During the deadly mass shooting on the Las Vegas Strip, the quick action to clear the airspace and runways at the airport during the mass shooting was that of an air traffic controller who was at the Route 91 Harvest Festival.
McCarran International Airport is located near the concert grounds and Mandalay Bay, so air traffic controller, Christina Stewart took action.
“People were running; people were carrying people out,” Stewart said.
Stewart said she and her fiancé first dropped to the ground before running for their lives in between volleys. She said when they finally made it closer to their car on the east-side of the concert grounds she took cover behind a concrete wall and got on her phone, but it was all while the mass killer was still shooting.
“I’m trying to dial the phone. “It’s just, I can’t, so I had to go to my contacts,” Stewart said. “You need to stop the helicopters. Keep them away from the Strip.”
Her colleague Anthony Borgert got word of the situation and began working with others to clear the airspace, diverting and grounding flights.
“It was amazing that she was that composed,” said Anthony Borgert, Air Traffic Control Specialist.
However, pilots flying near the airport were asked to stay up.
“They start to have questions, ‘hey why aren’t we landing what’s going on,'” said Borgert.
Everything was happening as Air Traffic Control was getting word that at least 300 concert-goers, desperate to escape the gunfire, may make their way onto the runways.
“We have people on the airport,” said Borgert, “Stop the departures. Stop the departures.”
It’s believed that about half a dozen choppers were in the air at the time of the shooting. Between roughly 10:30 p.m. and 11:30 p.m., 23 commercial flights were diverted to other airports including Phoenix and LAX.
Once she escaped the rounds being fired by the shooter, Stewart drove straight to the air traffic control tower and helped answer phones and listen to the radios.
“I stayed calm, but just took a minute and sat there and just couldn’t believe somebody would do something like that,” Stewart said.
Stewart says she will probably never return to the Route 91 Harvest Festival.