MIAMI, SEPT. 28 -- Police arrested four of nearly 200 Eastern Airlines passengers who gathered around an airport ticket counter after their flight to New York was canceled, officials said.
"For a time there, it was an unruly and unmanageable situation for officers to handle," Metro-Dade police spokesman Rey Valdes said of Sunday evening's confrontation with seven police officers at Miami International Airport.
"Everybody was angry, but most calmed down when they were told to," Valdes said. "But a few kept arguing and demanded to be put on a plane."
Angry passengers, however, blamed police for the confrontation.
"Eastern didn't handle it properly and the police were brutalizing the passengers," John Smythe, vice president of Shearson Lehman Brothers in New York City, said today.
Smythe said police jumped on one man and started choking him. "He was turning blue in the face," he said. "His wife started screaming. Everyone started screaming. The police were beating this guy."
Another New York City businessman on the canceled flight said police overreacted. "I've never been so outraged in my life," said Alan Kapell. "They treated everyone like we were all animals, criminals or terrorists."
One officer suffered minor cuts to his arms and face, Valdes said.
The trouble began shortly after 5 p.m., when a flight to Kennedy Airport for 317 passengers aboard an L1011 was canceled because of a mechanical problem. A Boeing 727 was dispatched as a replacement, but could only carry 149 passengers.
"The rest were stranded, and that's when things got out of hand," said Eastern spokesman Robin Matell. "Apparently there was some fighting among the passengers to get on that plane."
Matell said a DC9 was called in after the ruckus to carry 99 of the passengers to New York at 10 p.m., still leaving about 70 in Miami. He said overnight lodging and meals for those passengers would be paid by Eastern.