"They told us a large animal had gotten out of a container in the cargo hold and they were having to send someone to tranquilize it," said one passenger, Lee Sentell of Montgomery, Ala.
He said luggage was delayed, but baggage handlers promised to send his bags to him in Alabama.
The good news for passengers: The escaped cheetah didn't damage any of their luggage.
The airline summoned help from Zoo Atlanta, and experts rushed to a closed airport hangar and tranquilized the escaped animal and took both big cats to the zoo.
Both 1-year-old female cheetahs were on their way from the Wildlife Safari Park in Winston, Ore., to the Memphis Zoo in Tennessee, Memphis Zoo spokesman Drew Smith said in an e-mail. He said the two cheetahs will stay a few days at the zoo in Atlanta until the Memphis Zoo gets a team together to fetch them.
The cheetahs are on loan to the Memphis Zoo, but Smith said he wasn't sure how long they would stay there.
Local events | Contests | Headlines at a glance