National Guardsmen patrol Boston's Logan Airport, Newark, elsewhere to reassure fliers

Friday, October 5th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

BOSTON (AP) _ Armed National Guard patrols expanded Friday to dozens of airports large and small around the country, including Boston's Logan and Newark, where planes were hijacked Sept. 11.

National Guard patrols were expected to start Saturday at Washington Dulles, the third departure point for the terrorist attacks. Other airports, including Denver and Albuquerque, have had troops in place for a week or more.

At Logan on Friday, the eve of Columbus Day weekend, long lines formed at security checkpoints as about 150 troops screened baggage, patrolled terminals and tried to reassure travelers. The soldiers carried 9 mm pistols and had arrest powers.

John DiFava, appointed this week as the airport's new security chief, promised ``zero tolerance'' for lapses, which have continued despite repeated assurances from state officials.

Passenger Tony Whitworth, who was flying to Hawaii for a vacation, said the added security at Logan made him feel safer. But, he added, ``I was going to go anyway.''

President Bush wants 4,000 to 5,000 troops stationed at the nation's 420 commercial airports for up to six months while the federal government prepares to begin overseeing security. The federal government will pay for the troops.

Guardsmen were due to arrive Saturday at Reagan National near Washington, which reopened Thursday for the first time since the attacks. Patrols were expected Sunday at New York's Kennedy International and LaGuardia airports.

Troops also were posted Friday at airports in Newark, N.J., where hijacked United Flight 93 took off before crashing in Pennsylvania. Guard patrols also began Friday at Detroit, Minneapolis-St. Paul and Louisville, Ky., and at all commercial airports in Massachusetts and Florida.

``It's a somber thought of having to put armed troops in American airports,'' said Col. John Dwyer, spokesman for the New Jersey National Guard, noting that this was the first time since World War II that Guardsmen had been assigned to such duty. But he said their presence was necessary. ``They are here to rebuild the confidence in American airlines.''

Taylor Paulson found armed Guard troops at security checkpoints when she came to Louisville International Airport to pick up her brother.

``I think it makes some people more nervous to see them, I mean in the uniforms and all, but I guess I'm glad they're here,'' Paulson said.

Air travel had dropped sharply since Sept. 11, when two planes out of Boston crashed into New York's World Trade Center, a jet that left from Dulles airport near Washington dove into the Pentagon and a fourth that had taken off from Newark crashed in Pennsylvania, apparently short of its target.

Airlines have laid off tens of thousands of employees, and although the number of commercial flights has returned to nearly normal, some planes are less than half full.

Security breaches at Logan have focused attention on low-paid, often elderly baggage screeners. But officials at the Massachusetts Port Authority, which runs the airport, said improved safety will require shared intelligence about likely terrorists passing through.

``If something suspicious happens in St. Louis, then that information should be shared immediately with all the nation's airports,'' Massport spokesman Jose Juves said.