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  • Randall Benton / rbenton@sacbee.com

    US Airways escort Denice Miracle checks a list of passengers who were to be bused to San Francisco after their flights were diverted to Sacramento International Airport following the crash of Asiana Airlines Flight 214 at San Francisco International Airport.

  • Randall Benton / rbenton@sacbee.com

    Above, the passengers board the bus. Some other airlines' passengers were left to fend for themselves in getting home.

Confusion as 16 flights are rerouted from San Francisco to Sacramento

Published: Sunday, Jul. 7, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 8A
Last Modified: Friday, Jul. 12, 2013 - 6:45 pm

John Vallerga's flight from Paris was about half an hour from landing in San Francisco when the announcement came in from the flight deck:

The plane was landing in Oakland. No reason given.

Instead, Vallerga and his wife ended up landing at Sacramento International Airport on Saturday afternoon, one of 16 SFO-bound flights diverted to Sacramento in the wake of Saturday's crash of Asiana Airlines Flight 214.

The result left bewildered travelers wondering how to get home and airline officials scrambling to find alternate transportation and deal with the crush of unexpected flights.

"We will accommodate them as best we can, then get them off as soon as SFO returns to normal operations," airport spokesman Joe Conklin said, adding that flights from Sacramento to San Francisco also were canceled Saturday afternoon.

Of the 16 diverted flights, three were able to fly back to San Francisco on Saturday afternoon following the reopening of two of SFO's four runways.

A dozen Sacramento airport officials were called in Saturday to help out – some of whom drove out to the planes on the tarmac to deliver food and water to waiting fliers. But Conklin said the day's activities did not affect regular service or cause any problems.

"It's an unusual moment, but we are prepared for events like this," he said. "We fall back on our 'irregular operations' plans."

Conklin said the airport should be back to regular operations today.

As diverted flights landed, passengers were routed to different baggage carousels, where confusion was the watchword.

US Airways had a large bus waiting to take passengers to San Francisco. Employees were funneling them on board, checking off names on a long print-out sheet. The bus, though not 100 percent full, was quickly running out of space to put luggage on the curbside bays.

United Airlines passengers were milling around outside the bus, left to fend for themselves. Some asked bystanders where they could catch a bus or taxi into Sacramento for Amtrak passage to San Francisco.

Vallerga, a UC Berkeley astronomer, said he planned to take a train to his Oakland home after spending two hours on the tarmac in Sacramento.

He said passengers were never given an explanation for why their flight was diverted.

"It wasn't until we were on the ground and everybody started checking their cellphones that we knew," he said.

Richard Power, from Mercer Island, Wash., had been on a United Express flight that originated in Seattle. His San Francisco-to-Paris flight was canceled after the crash.

"I'm flying to Paris to meet my daughter, who lives in Istanbul," he said. "I will have to figure out how I will be spending the night here. … "

"Tomorrow I'm going to have to be at the airport at 5 a.m. for a plane to Denver, to Chicago, and then to Paris. This is setting me back a whole day."

Alameda resident Al Beuscher was coming into San Francisco from Boston.

"We sat on the tarmac for an hour until United arrived with the staff so that we could get off the plane," he said. "We were watching news about the crash on the TV, on the seatbacks, about what was going on at SFO.

"I don't get too freaked out about these things. I flew 12-seaters every week for my entire childhood because my father lived in Nantucket … so I did a lot of puddle-jumping."

He said his brother was driving from Alameda to pick him up.

Call The Bee's Edward Ortiz, (916) 321-1071. Follow him on Twitter @edwardortiz.

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