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LAX Paralyzed by Security Breach

Airport: After a man bypasses a checkpoint, nearly 150 flights are delayed. He is not found.

July 28, 2002|DAREN BRISCOE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Thousands of airline passengers were evacuated Saturday from five Los Angeles International Airport terminals and hundreds of flights were delayed while police searched for an unidentified man who breached a security checkpoint.

The incident snarled air and ground traffic at LAX after officials temporarily shut down the airport's upper level and the Federal Aviation Administration halted all incoming flights from Western states, an airport spokeswoman said.

Complete details of the incident were not available, but officials said the evacuation was ordered at 12:50 p.m. after a ticketed male passenger somehow bypassed a security checkpoint in Terminal 5 and then disappeared.

"Since Terminal 5 is connected to several other terminals, several other terminals were evacuated," said Nico Melendez, a spokesman for the federal Transportation Security Administration.

The shutdown delayed nearly 150 flights and caused the cancellation of 10 others, leaving as many as 8,000 passengers stranded on the airport's outside upper deck while security sweeps of Terminals 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8 were conducted, said LAX spokeswoman Nancy Castles. The FAA also called a "ground halt" of all flights originating in the Western states and bound for LAX. The man had not been found by late Saturday.

All terminals were reopened by 3 p.m., and passengers were rescreened.

Designed in the 1950s, the terminals are connected by a series of passageways that passengers with connecting flights can use to move between terminals. Once there was a security breach, Castles said, all of the terminals had to be cleared.

"You don't know how far or how fast someone can get from terminal to terminal [through the passageways]," she said.

Thousands of airline passengers milled around on the airport's upper deck while the search was conducted. No traffic was allowed to pass outside the closed terminals.

Many passengers seemed resigned to the delay.

Kazumasa Yoshikane, 34, said he was headed to Aguas Calientes, Mexico, after arriving on a flight from Tokyo.

"I've been delayed by two hours already, but I think we're going to board in a few minutes," he said in midafternoon.

Ken Lewis, 33, said his flight to Pittsburgh had already boarded when he and the other passengers were asked to deplane.

He was still waiting to reboard 3 1/2 hours later but sounded philosophical about the wait.

"It's par for the course in the times we're living in," he said.

Under the Aviation and Transportation Security Act signed by President Bush last year, all airport security checkpoints will be staffed with federalized screeners by Nov. 19.

The Transportation Security Administration was created to make airports more secure in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in New York and near Washington, D.C. The agency currently holds the contracts for private security screening companies at airports around the country.

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