Unplugged metal detector causes delays at Seattle-Tacoma airport

Sunday, November 25th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

SEATAC, Wash. (AP) _ Hundreds of passengers had to be rechecked at the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport on Saturday after a National Guardsman noticed that a metal detector they had passed through was unplugged.

One TWA jet already in flight was called back, and about 100 flights were delayed or otherwise affected, said airport spokesman Bob Parker. Eight to 10 airborne United Airlines jets were allowed to continue, but passengers were rescreened upon landing.

In the airport, passengers were delayed for hours as officials cleared concourses.

``Our hats are off to the National Guardsmen. They're not just window dressing; they're paying attention to what's going on,'' said Mike Fergus, a spokesman for the Federal Aviation Administration.

The Guardsman realized Saturday morning that the detector wasn't fully plugged in, Fergus said.

The plug had come loose ``for a period of about 15 minutes as far as we can tell,'' said Jack Evans, a spokesman for Alaska Airlines, which operates the checkpoint.

The metal detector is used for crew, employees, passengers with no carryon bags and some frequent flyers, Evans said.

A company manager for Huntleigh USA Corp. of St. Louis, a security firm hired by Alaska Airlines to run the checkpoint, declined to comment Saturday.

A terminal at California's Oakland International Airport was evacuated when a Southwest Airlines flight landed there with passengers who had gone through SeaTac during the security lapse.

All travelers were forced to leave the terminal until passengers aboard the Seattle flight were rescreened and allowed to board connecting flights.

Also Saturday, passengers were evacuated from Memphis International Airport for almost two hours after security officials erroneously reported that a man set off a metal detector and then passed through security without being checked.

A review of security videotapes showed the man had in fact been checked, airport officials said. About 1,000 people were temporarily removed from concourses while airport police investigated.

And in Santa Ana, Calif., authorities temporarily shut down a terminal at John Wayne Airport when a woman bypassed security.

Authorities attempted to stop the woman when she went past a checkpoint, but lost track of her, said airport spokeswoman Ann McCarley. Authorities closed the terminal for an hour and cleared out thousands of passengers, McCarley said.

Authorities didn't find the woman or any suspicious items, McCarley said. The terminal was reopened and the passengers were screened again.

``We don't believe there was any malicious intent,'' McCarley said.