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Orange County

Double Trouble at John Wayne

Airport: Thousands are delayed when a jet tire blows, then again when a woman breaches security.

November 25, 2001|TINA BORGATTA and STUART PFEIFER | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Operations at John Wayne Airport were shut down twice Saturday--first when a tire on a Delta jet blew out during landing shortly after 9 a.m., then when a woman ran past security officers and entered the terminal shortly after noon, an FAA official said.

Thousands of people waiting to board planes were evacuated from the departure level of the terminal, and passengers on arriving flights were stuck either in the air or on the tarmac, said Ann McCarley, a spokeswoman for John Wayne Airport.

The incidents halted flights and jammed air service for several hours during one of the busiest travel weekends of the year and added to delays that had already been created by a security breach earlier in the day at Seattle-Tacoma Airport.

At John Wayne Airport, two Delta flights were canceled. Other flights faced delays ranging from a few minutes to several hours.

Brett Jurick, 33, of Dallas was waiting to board an American Airlines flight home with his wife and two young children when the Delta blowout shut down the airport's commercial runway. He said operations had no sooner resumed when the airport was shut down again shortly after 12:15 p.m.

"We were sitting across from the security counter and a guard came running past us saying, 'Stop, stop! In the hat, in the hat!' " Jurick said. "The National Guards came by with their guns and told everyone to just stay where we were."

A woman had "bolted" past security officers at the metal detectors and X-ray machines, and entered the terminal area reserved for departing passengers already screened, said Les Dorr, an FAA spokesman in Washington, D.C.

People in the terminal were initially told to remain in place, and after an hour or so were herded to the baggage claim area downstairs, where they remained for another hour and a half. During this time, armed National Guardsmen and security personnel searched for the woman. She had not been located late Saturday afternoon, McCarley said.

"We don't believe there was malicious intent," McCarley said. "But to be secure, we searched for anything suspicious, and nothing turned up."

Meanwhile, flights were forced to circle before landing, and others were instructed to land at Ontario or Los Angeles International airports, McCarley said.

Operations on the ground resumed about 2:15 p.m., and by 3 p.m., air traffic had resumed, Dorr said.

At the Seattle-Tacoma Airport, a National Guardsman noticed that a screening device was not working. Passengers on 28 flights to California, Arizona and Nevada had to be rescreened at their destinations, said Jerry Johnston, an FAA spokesman in Los Angeles.

McCarley could not say how many flights were affected by the Orange County incidents, which came eight days after a similar security breach at Hartsfield Atlanta International Airport, where a male passenger who had been screened ran past security guards after retrieving a camera bag he forgot on the other side of the screening devices.

"There's a ripple effect when something like this happens," McCarley said. "There are delays with the planes taking off for other areas of the country, and with the people waiting to catch flights at the other end."

Duke Cole, 37, of Fullerton and his wife had to wait through delays in Seattle and Orange County. He was on an Alaska Airlines flight from Seattle that was supposed to arrive in Orange County at 11:30 a.m., but he didn't step off the plane at John Wayne until 4:30 p.m.

He said the day's events have him questioning airport safety.

"The delays are OK, but if they're going to do it, do it right," he said. "The security's not there."

The incidents, however, didn't bother Miguel Tinajero of Aliso Viejo, whose relative caught a flight out of John Wayne on Saturday afternoon.

"I don't think it shocks people when this stuff happens anymore," Tinajero said.

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