The ordeal of some 80 Utahns stranded since Wednesday on Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula by the record-breaking strength of Hurricane Gilbert finally ended Saturday afternoon in tears and hugs at the Salt Lake International Airport.
After Skyworld Flight 2060 landed about 4 p.m., the passengers were whisked through customs and driven to meet their friends and relatives waiting outside the main terminal after the 41/2-hour flight from the Cancun Airport.They had been scheduled to return from their weeklong trip on Friday. But downed communication lines had left their loved ones without word about their condition since the hurricane hit Wednesday morning.
Twenty-year-old Janae Reynolds of Providence, Cache County, who had traveled to the popular resort for a honeymoon with her husband, Scot, burst into tears upon arrival and held on to her brother's fiancee for a few minutes.
"There are not words," Reynolds said when asked to describe the last few days. She said the couple had no warning that the hurricane was coming. When it hit, she said, there was little to do but wait.
The Reynoldses and all of the passengers appeared in good health and good spirits, although a few complained of the poor living conditions that resulted from the hurriane that killed at least 26 people on the peninsula alone.
"Conditions down there are awful," said another honeymooner, Michelle Larsen of Salt Lake City. "There's no water, no sanitary conditions. We spent our nights in hallways."
Others praised the residents of the popular tourist area, who shared their food and their shelter, including an LDS Church, with them.
"That was by far the safest place to be," said Salt Lake resident Gordon Christensen. He said members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints fed the tourists several meals of beans and rice before food ran out.
Fresh water and sanitary facilities were also unavailable in the church and in other locations throughout the peninsula after the storm, which swept across the southeastern tip of Mexico Wednesday with winds of up to 175 mph.
Several Morris Air Service officials were at the airport handing out plastic flags and holding red, white and blue balloons along with a banner reading, "Welcome Home."
Their welcome extended to four of their own co-workers who had traveled to Cancun Friday in a Lear jet with "lots of cash, water and food," according to company vice president Gordon Evans.
The plane dropped off the four employees and the supplies and returned to Salt Lake City. That was the signal to send a chartered Boeing 707 jet back to pick up the tour group members.
Seven members of one area family, the Farnsworths, were in Merida, the Yucatan capital, when the hurricane hit. They were able to leave on a commercial airline flight from that city's airport Friday.
Another pair of travelers who had flown down to Cancun on the charter flight booked through Morris Air Service also had made their own arrangements to return to the United States, Evans said.
The trip was not an arranged tour, but instead a charter flight to and from the Cancun Airport, with additional travel arrangements made as requested, he said.
That meant that the 92 tourists that Morris Air Service had taken to Mexico last week were scattered throughout the peninsula, which is known for its state-developed resort areas, exotic ruins and scuba diving.
Even though the hurricane knocked out all communication, all of the group was accounted for by Friday through the efforts of Scott Hosking, a representative of Morris Air Service who lives in Cancun during the tourist season.
Hosking and his wife, Kim, remained in Cancun in anticipation of tourist visits resuming in a few weeks. However, they sent their four children back to Salt Lake City and into the arms of their grandparents Saturday.
The four, Zachery, 2; Lacey, 5; Aaron, 6; and Robby, 8; were met at the airport by Webster and Sandy Reece. Sandy Reece was so anxious about her grandchildren traveling alone that she burst into tears when they weren't among the first group released from customs.
Other families also shared tears. Ron and Janis Palmer had left their four children behind with his parents. The children cried and hung onto their father and mother while the parents described the last few days.
Ron Palmer, a Salt Lake County paramedic, said he had treated several other travelers for cuts and other minor injuries. But he downplayed the discomforts associated with the disaster and instead praised the Mexican people.
He said that some of the Americans trapped by the hurricane displayed arrogance toward their hosts, making him at times not proud to be among them. "A lot of people were thinking that they came first," he said.