For Tense Hours, Church Group Was In International Limbo

(CBS) — A church group from Chicago was in international limbo for several hours overnight because they say they had no choice but to enter Haiti illegally.

Members of Bethel Community Church tried to fly back to Chicago after a humanitarian mission. They exited through Haitian immigration. Then they sat on the tarmac. After two hours, they say American Airlines told them there were mechanical problems.

So, they were told to go back into the terminal.

There, they were told the airport Cap Haitien (CAP) was closing and they needed to leave.

And Haitian immigration? Church member Nick Allen says they’d gone home.

“My group and I, we called American to ask what to do.  I kept asking them, ‘Can we leave the airport – because we’ve not checked back into the country?’” he tells WBBM’s Steve Miller.

“And they said, ‘Well, immigration is the only person that can tell you that.’

“And I said, ‘Immigration has left.’

“And she’s like, ‘Well, I can’t tell you what to do.'”

Allen says the group’s main concern was, what would have happened if they were stopped?

“How do you explain that,” he says.

“And being in a (place) like Cap-Haitien, not sure (about) corruption, but if we get stopped, do we get thrown in jail? How do you explain that you just did something illegal, but you had no choice in the matter?”

Allen says they called the U.S. embassy, and more confusion ensued.

“They didn’t know what to tell me. That if we do end up getting detained, we can call them back and they could take it from there.”

Allen says his group of six finally made it out, after spending the night in Cap-Haitien.

American Airlines says in a statement:  “As the airport closes at 6 p.m., immigration and airport personnel leave the premises once the last flight pushes back for departure.  Our team at CAP followed all procedures and customers were provided with hotel accommodations upon room availability.  We apologize to our customers for any inconvenience.”

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