Airlines recovering after security breach that emptied busy Atlanta airport

Sunday, November 18th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

ATLANTA (AP) _ The nation's busiest airport posted armed guards and police officers Saturday at a security checkpoint where a man had dashed through, forcing officials to halt flights and evacuate the airport.

Michael S. Lasseter was released on $11,500 bond Saturday and could face federal charges for violating airport security. He told authorities he had been racing to return to his flight from the main terminal, and didn't know that security personnel had pursued him.

The security breach caused officials to shut down Hartsfield Atlanta International Airport for four hours Friday, delaying thousands of passengers nationwide.

General manager Ben DeCosta met with representatives of the Federal Aviation Administration, Georgia National Guard, airport operations and city police on Saturday to discuss the incident.

Airlines were recovering Saturday from the hundreds of delays and cancellations that affected between 5,000 and 10,000 passengers.

Delta spokeswoman Jenny Dervin said long lines Saturday morning gave way to average wait times and on-time departures by 5 p.m. Delta canceled 250 flights Friday.

AirTran spokesman Tad Hutcheson said most delayed passengers had made it to their destinations by early Saturday morning. He said it was too early to assess how much money the airline lost from the security breach. Airtran canceled 24 flights and diverted 17 others.

``The economic impact from the diversions to other cities _ which will obviously cost extra fuel _ employee overtime, the lost revenue from people who decided they didn't want to go ... it will be a significant amount,'' said Hutcheson.

Lasseter, 32, a financial executive, told police he had passed the security screening when he first arrived at the airport, but returned to the terminal to find his camera bag. Then, rather than go through security a second time to get back to his flight, he hurried down an up-escalator to circumvent long lines, police Maj. Marion Brooks said.

He was traveling with his son and uncle, who made the flight, to attend Saturday's Georgia-Mississippi college football game in Oxford, Miss., about 60 miles southeast of Memphis.

A security agent saw the football fan in his Georgia T-shirt and jogging pants but couldn't catch him. Knowing only that an unchecked person was on the loose in the concourses, authorities evacuated about 10,000 people while the National Guard, airport security and police searched for the man.

Lasseter later returned to the gate area for Northwest Airlines to wait for another flight. Northwest employees identified him from a security videotape, and police arrested him at around 6:30 p.m.

After posting bond early Saturday morning, Lasseter called his mother and then drove to Oxford, Miss. _ not to attend the football game but to retrieve his 6-year-old son.

``He thought about flying,'' his mother, Cathryn Lasseter, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. ``But then he decided he'd better drive.''