THOMASVILLE — The thwarted terrorist plot to blow up several British flights bound for major American cities flew close to home for one local family.

Debbie Beeson’s daughters Sarah, 20, and Emily, 23, were scheduled to return home Thursday on separate flights from London’s Gatwick Airport. Sarah had been in London all summer for a British studies program at Oxford University and Emily had been there a few weeks for a visit.

“It’s probably a good thing they were flying out of Gatwick instead of Heathrow Airport,” said Debbie Beeson on Friday. “It just really scared me. You feel so helpless when everyone is so far away.”

Sarah’s flight was scheduled to leave at 10 a.m. She arrived at 7 a.m., went through security and immediately called her mother.

“It was 3:30 a.m. our time, and Sarah said, ‘Mom, they made us check everything. The only thing I have is my wallet and passport,’” Debbie said.

Sarah said this seemed odd, but nothing to be worried about at the time.

“I had no idea what was going on,” Sarah said. “Oddly, security was the fastest I’ve ever gone through at an international airport. There was a man with a big gun there, but I didn’t really think anything of it. I just assumed that it was a heavy flight. I did notice that there were no televisions on in the airport. That was odd, and we were patted down at security and at the gate and sat on the tarmac for about three hours before taking off. I thought it was strange, but I didn’t know anything was wrong.”

Sarah’s oddities were nothing compared to what Emily saw a few hours later.

“Emily called and said, ‘Mom, what’s going on? I’m at the airport and I haven’t moved from the same spot in the last two hours. There are guys with rifles making everyone put stuff in plastic bags,’” recalled Debbie. “I turned on CNN and realized there was a major problem. Emily was scared and I told her to just get in a cab and go back into the city and that we would find a way to get her home.”

Debbie, with one daughter safe, turned to tracking Sarah, who had not been heard from in several hours.

“I tried to get in contact with her and her sister tried to find her but could not,” she said. “I couldn’t reach her.”

Sarah had a connecting flight from Charlotte, N.C., to Atlanta. Debbie said she decided to take matters into her own hands.

“I just decided to drive up to Charlotte to get her,” she said. “I thought she would know what was going on and be freaked out. That flight was the only one to Charlotte from London and, when it arrived, there were a million photographers. Sarah was so excited to see me and, when I asked her if she was OK, she asked me what was I talking about.”

Sarah said she was happy — but confused — to see her mom at the airport.

“My mom has a tendency to surprise me randomly, but then I saw the cameras and was a little confused,” she said. “Then she told me. I don’t think anyone on the plane had any idea. Everyone was very calm. It was a normal flight to us with delays. It’s kind of weird to think that I was possibly on a terrorist flight, and I wouldn’t have gotten on another plane once I found out. I have friends in Charlotte and I probably would have called my mom and gone to their house.”

Debbie said she’s glad Sarah did not know about the terrorist plot.

“I was really scared for my daughters, but I’m glad that she’s home and didn’t know about it then,” she said. “It’s just one of those feelings of disbelief and knowing that your children are affected by it.”

But, despite the fear, the Beesons said they will fly again — just not in the near future.

“I still think you’ve got to live your life, overall, but I’m glad I’m not on one (a plane) today,” said Debbie.

Sarah is returning to her British studies next summer.

“I don’t mind in-state or national flights, but I don’t want to fly international any time soon,” she said.

British and U.S. investigators have described the plot as being on the scale of Sept. 11, 2001, and said the planners sought to use common electronic devices to detonate liquid explosives on board to bring down as many as 10 planes.

A scare like this, said Sarah, makes one think about the past and the possible future.

“I’d flown internationally once before 9/11 and flew again my senior year, but the security I experienced wasn’t so much increased,” she said. “That kind of worries me in a bit. I’d like to think that they would check more often so that an incident like that won’t happen again. Security needs to step it up in how they check everything. They barely even checked my bag. It’s scary for someone in my generation, because I can only imagine that things will get worse with time. It’s scary how random it was. They wanted to kill innocent people. They just wanted to kill Americans, in general. I hate to think that it could get worse throughout my lifetime, and it makes me more hesitant to travel.”

New security measures banning liquids and gels on flights remained in place Friday and Emily is still in London.

“British Air is willing to work out whatever it can to get her home, but I want to wait a few days to watch the situation,” said Debbie. “Her father wants her to get on a cruise ship and come home. He doesn’t want her to fly! I’ve thought about getting her to another city and having her catch a connecting flight, but I feel like, for the imminent future, to be extra cautious. Emily is fine. She’s happy to still be in London and has a bunch of friends who live there. She lived there for a year of college and she’s at home there. She’s safe for right now, and that’s what is important.”

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