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RESPONSE TO TERROR

Atlanta Air Service Jams After Breach

November 18, 2001|From Associated Press

ATLANTA — A man ran past guards and through a passenger exit at the nation's busiest airport Friday, halting flights and causing a ripple effect that slowed air traffic throughout the United States.

The man entered the secure area of Hartsfield Atlanta International Airport then fled down an up-escalator shortly before noon, airport officials said. The security breach all but shut down the airport for four hours, as flights into and out of Atlanta were delayed.

Police said the man was not captured and may have blended in with the thousands of passengers and airport employees who were forced into parking lots outside the terminal.

The man, who was wearing a white shirt and jeans, ran past two private guards to get to the escalator, said Benjamin DeCosta, the airport's general manager. The man did not carry a visible weapon.

Private security workers, National Guard troops and police officers chased the man.

The Federal Aviation Administration halted departures at Hartsfield, and planes in other cities destined for Atlanta were told to remain on the ground, FAA spokesman Christopher White said. International flights were allowed to land and passengers were held in the concourse.

DeCosta said 5,000 to 10,000 passengers and employees were evacuated.

After the airport was searched, all passengers had to go through even tighter security.

Lines of people in the lots began moving slowly after 3 p.m., and flights began taking off again after 4 p.m. Flight schedules were not back to normal until Saturday.

"If you want me to fly, you've got to stop this kind of nonsense," said Jerry Presley of Kansas City, Mo., who had been in Atlanta on business. "They should have stopped this guy. There should have been someone to catch this guy."

The passenger exit was staffed by two private guards with International Total Services, which handles security at Hartsfield. Police officers and National Guard troops were also nearby. Officials at the Cleveland-based company did not return a call seeking comment.

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