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American Terminal at LAX Evacuated

August 17, 2004|Zeke Minaya | Times Staff Writer

Passengers were evacuated and 27 departure flights were delayed Monday after a passenger with a small knife was mistakenly allowed through a security checkpoint at the American Airlines terminal at Los Angeles International Airport, officials said.

Screeners noticed the Swiss Army-type blade in the carry-on baggage of a male passenger at a Terminal 4 X-ray station about 4 p.m., authorities said. But they said that before the luggage could be hand-searched, the passenger retrieved the bag and disappeared into the terminal.

The Transportation Security Administration ordered the terminal evacuated and passengers re-screened as they searched for the man, authorities said. Passengers were allowed back in the terminal at 7:21 p.m., but airport officials said the search for the passenger, whose picture was taken by the surveillance system, could last much of the night.

Officials said it was possible the man boarded a flight before the departures were halted.

"There was no indication that this was a dangerous situation," said Nancy Castles, a spokeswoman for Los Angeles World Airports.

"All we know is that this person was not properly screened," she said. "We also know that he did not run away from the screening station. He may not know that law enforcement is looking for him."

Passengers on two outbound flights had boarded their planes before the security alert was announced and the flights were delayed. They were taken off the planes and re-screened before they were allowed to re-board.

Cheryl Stammer of West Los Angeles said her flight to Dallas, originally scheduled for 6:15 p.m., was delayed four hours.

"The sidewalks were packed with passengers and the entire street was lined with police cars," she said.

The airport said that nine inbound flights were held on the taxiway until the evacuation ended. One flight was canceled.

Airport officials estimated that between 4,000 and 5,000 travelers were affected by the incident.

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Associated Press contributed to this report.

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