| Palm Beach Post
Readers: Here in the heart of hurricane season, we look back at a “mystery trip” that turned into an ordeal.
Last year, we heard from retired Palm Beach Gardens travel agent Al Hayward (Disclaimer: Al’s son, Jim, is a news producer for The Post.)
In 1988, Al was part of the local “Royal Palm Bons Vivants.” The professional group of travel agents did an annual mystery trip. Members did not know their destination until they got to the airport departure gate.
That year, the four dozen participants learned, it was Montego Bay, Jamaica. They flew to the island on Friday, Sept. 12, with plans to return the following Tuesday and Wednesday. But on Monday, they were dealing with Hurricane Gilbert.
“What I can’t figure out is why they didn’t come home,” Lisa Kaplan, daughter-in-law of travel agents Corrine and David Kaplan of Palm Beach Gardens, told The Post that week. “I don’t know if it was the hotel people or what, but they were told it was just a little storm and would be over in an hour.”
Gilbert was not a little storm. It was the first to make a direct hit on Jamaica since 1951. Winds gusted to nearly 150 mph. Gilbert would kill more than 300 in the islands, Mexico, and Central and South America.
During the storm, agents moved to high ground from their Jack Tar Village hotel, where windows were smashed, trees toppled, and tiki huts along the beach vanished.
For days, agents had no running water or power and carried buckets of water from the swimming pool to their rooms to flush toilets. A few washed in swimming pool water.
Meanwhile, with phone lines down, relatives back in Palm Beach County were frantic. It would be Wednesday, Sept. 14, before ham radio operators heard from their counterparts in Jamaica that the travel agents were OK.
The group returned Thursday, Sept. 15, aboard a packed Eastern Airlines jet that “rumbled with applause” as it touched down at Miami International Airport, Post reporter Gary Kane wrote.
In 2013, some of the agents gathered for a 25-year reunion to recall what Al told us was “quite an adventure.”
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