Aviation: Airport Security horror stories

Tuesday 22 April 2008

We might feel like beating up the people who ruin our day with ridiculous security checks when we try to fly - but some people still insist on misbehaving and making the annoying procedures an inevitable part of the frustration that is becoming usual.

In February this year, a member of staff at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport recently discovered a loaded .38-calibre gun in a passenger's computer bag while working. Police said the passenger claimed there were no weapons in the bag and that he had not touched the contents of the bag in more than a month. When the gun was discovered, however, it was directly under a copy of that day's newspaper. The passenger was arrested and charged with carrying a concealed weapon.

He's not so rare. Just a week later a security officer operating the X-ray one recent Saturday at Austin-Bergstrom International scanned a female passenger's carry-on bag and noticed what appeared to be a weapon: it, too, turned out to be a .38-calibre handgun.

Guns are a problem on US airlines, it seems:

Wilmington (N.C.) International Airport, an officer spotted an image of a handgun and ammunition magazine. The passenger said he was in a hurry to catch his flight and that there was a cell phone charger inside. However, the bag search revealed a .380-calibre automatic pistol and magazine loaded with seven rounds of ammunition.(pic) The passenger claimed that he had forgotten the weapon was in the bag.

At Fayetteville (N.C.) Regional Airport, a bag-scanner spotted an image of a handgun and ammunition clip. The officer promptly summoned a Fayetteville police officer who took control of the carry-on bag which included a Colt Mark IV .38-calibre semi-automatic pistol and ammunition clip with four rounds.

But it's the bombs that are perhaps even more worrying:

At Orlando International Airport it wasust another beautiful Spring day in Central Florida, according to the TSA, a US government agency. They say that a gentle breeze wa blowing with temperatures in the 70s, hundreds of passengers pouring into the airport...including a Jamaican named Kevin Brown. TSA Behaviour Detection Programme Manager and former Border Patrol officer Cleveland Laycock was also in the area working and Brown's behaviour immediately aroused the manager's suspicion. After observing the passenger for a matter of seconds, Laycock called for Behaviour Detection Officer Jose Zengotita, a 20-year veteran of the NYPD, to continue watching Brown well in front of the ticket counter and hundreds of yards from the nearest security checkpoint

Zengotita continued to observe Brown walking around the Air Jamaica ticket counter area, still displaying very suspicious behaviour. After an extended period of time, Brown checked his luggage and turned over his baggage to TSA officers for electronic inspection. Working with his fellow TSA officers, Zengotita did a quick search of the passenger's checked bag and knew they were onto something important. The security officers on the scene called for the TSA bomb appraisal officer David Platt to further investigate the contents of the bag.

At the same time, Zengotita continued his observations of Brown as he left the ticketing area and proceeded into the main terminal. By now, his observations had led the behaviour detection officer to call for Orlando police to further investigate. Police quickly arrived and took Brown into custody.

While police were speaking with Brown, TSA's bomb appraisal officer had determined that the items in Brown's bag; two galvanised pipes, end caps, two small containers containing BBs, batteries, two containers with an unknown liquid, laptop, and bomb making literature were significantly suspicious to request assistance from the Orange County Bomb Squad. The bomb squad arrived quickly and began assessing both the materials in the passenger's checked baggage and passenger himself. After this initial scrutiny of the passenger and his bag, the FBI was requested and has assumed the lead role in this active, criminal investigation. Brown was arrested by the FBI in connection with United States Code Title 49, Section 46505 – Carrying a weapon or explosive on an aircraft.

Those are just a few of the actions reported by the TSA - so far this month. And it's not just at US airports that passengers turn up with dangerous - or at least prohibited items: the week before last, a passenger en route from Kuala Lumpur to Bangladesh was discovered to have taken a fruit-knife on board. But many airports do not make known their security issues, at least not in sucha clear way.

Recently, there were reports that an intruder was found on the tarmac at London Heathrow's T5 - the day before its official opening. He was carrying a bag that was blown up by the authorities but which was later found to contain nothing worrisome.

Between 3 and 5th August last year, Transportation Security Officers found 12 firearms at checkpoints around the U.S., including:

a 9 mm firearm loaded with 15 rounds
a .25 calibre firearm loaded with eight rounds
a 9 mm semi-automatic firearm loaded with 10 rounds
a .40 calibre semi-automatic firearm loaded with nine rounds
a .25 calibre semi-automatic firearm and a magazine loaded with five rounds.

This is not out of the ordinary. Transportation Security Officers find firearms in carry-on bags virtually every day. In 2006, some 820 firearms were intercepted at U.S. checkpoints.

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