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Hoax Explosives Tip Disrupts Burbank Airport, Rail Service

Anonymous call leads to a truck carrying devices used in movie-making. Union strife is blamed.

June 24, 2003|Andrew Blankstein and Caitlin Liu | Times Staff Writers

Authorities shut down a runaway at Burbank Airport and suspended service on a commuter rail line early Monday after finding a big-rig truck that matched the description from an anonymous caller who said the vehicle was headed to the Los Angeles area with thousands of pounds of explosives.

After discovering the truck parked at San Fernando Road and Arvilla Avenue about 3:30 a.m., Los Angeles Police Department bomb technicians opened the cargo compartment and found that it was loaded with pyrotechnic devices used in movie-making.

Police said that further investigation revealed the tip apparently was a prank tied to a labor dispute. The truck was being driven by a nonunion driver, and that led authorities to believe that a labor-related disagreement prompted the call.

The driver cooperated with authorities, providing them with his manifest, police said.

"Obviously, until we knew what we had, we treated it like the real thing," LAPD spokesman Art Miller said. "This is a stupid prank that expended untold resources."

The search for the truck began about 2:30 p.m. Saturday after a caller told the Barstow office of the California Highway Patrol that a green big-rig with explosives and blasting caps was headed for Burbank Airport via Texas.

Authorities alerted the media to the tip Sunday evening and news broadcasts caught the attention of a storage lot owner along San Fernando Road, who warned one of his security guards to be on the lookout for the vehicle.

The guard spotted the truck about 3:30 a.m. and notified Burbank Airport police, who called in other law enforcement officials. Eleven agencies responded, including the LAPD, CHP, Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, FBI, Burbank police and the airport police.

Officers sealed off the area, creating a one-square-mile perimeter around the vehicle.

Authorities closed the airport's north-south runway shortly before 5 a.m. because the truck was parked about a mile north of the terminal, Burbank Airport spokesman Victor J. Gill said.

Police also said they were worried about the vehicle's proximity to a nearby 290,000-gallon jet fuel storage facility.

The runway closure delayed only a few flights, Gill said. The airport's other runway and terminal remained open. Because of a voluntary flight curfew, most of the airfield's flights were scheduled to depart after 7 a.m. anyway, he said.

Rail authorities also closed nearby tracks, delaying commuter trains carrying more than 1,000 passengers on Metrolink's Antelope Valley line, said Sharon Gavin, spokeswoman for Metrolink.

The runway and tracks were reopened about 7 a.m.

The truck was one of two vehicles making a routine delivery to Desmond's Studio Production Service, which rents space at the airport to store equipment for the movie industry, Gill said.

No one from Desmond's could be reached Monday for comment.

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