Bomb scare tangles BWI Sniffer dog's alert at abandoned car causes roadblocks

November 18, 1996|By Sheridan Lyons and Kris Antonelli | Sheridan Lyons and Kris Antonelli,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer Frank D. Roylance contributed to this article.

Traffic backed up a few miles and scores of passengers and some flights were delayed yesterday afternoon at Baltimore-Washington International Airport while authorities checked an unattended rental car after a bomb-sniffing dog indicated there might be something wrong.

There was no bomb, though -- just an abundance of caution, said Special Agent Larry K. Foust of the Baltimore FBI office.

Police eventually traced the car to a family of four from Connecticut. They ran out of time before their flight to New Haven and abandoned their rented Buick at the terminal, according to Tom Freburger, a spokesman for the Maryland Transportation Authority Police.

"New Haven police talked to them and talked to us," he said. "And since nothing was found in the car, there was no reason to detain or charge them. They went on their merry way."

There was nothing merry, however, about the mess they left behind at BWI. Police closed the roads that pass in front of the main terminal and the short-term parking deck as precautions by 1 p.m., which caused traffic to back up on Interstate 195 and the Baltimore-Washington Parkway leading to the airport.

That forced many frustrated passengers to walk with their luggage toward the main terminal in order to make their flights.

Others arriving from points beyond Baltimore could be seen walking to satellite parking lots, where their cars were sitting more than a mile away.

"We have been waiting here for two hours," said Jeff Wang. He and 24 business people from the Shanghai, China, futures delegation were standing on a grassy strip about a half-mile from the main terminal to await a shuttle bus.

BWI authorities made an announcement inside the airport apologizing for delays, explaining that there was an emergency and that people should not leave packages and luggage unattended.

But for the passengers and motorists outside the terminal, that was little comfort.

"They never told us what was going on," said Wang. "We're tired and hungry and are waiting for our bus."

The car with the suspected bomb was on the top level of the airport in front of the international terminal now under construction. An MdTA police officer spotted the vehicle at 12: 48 p.m., parked in the construction area, and became suspicious, said Freburger. When the dog acted as if it had detected something, a thorough search was undertaken.

The police immediately closed off the roads leading to the upper level for departing flights and the lower level by the baggage claim, said Linda Greene, director of public information for BWI.

"We had to close both the upper and lower roadways, and the [short-term parking] garage," said Greene. "We realized that a lot of our passengers were going to be inconvenienced. We tried to explain that to them, that we were sorry for the inconvenience, but it was a security precaution that we had to take."

She said a few flight delays occurred at about 4 p.m., as airlines attempted to rebook some passengers -- and because some airline crew members were caught in the traffic backup and not able to get to their planes on time.

Len and Lynn King of Westminster were standing along the curb near baggage claim with their 3 1/2 -year-old daughter, Lauren. With their luggage piled high, they were waiting for their ride home.

"I guess we sit out on the curb," Mrs. King said. "After 12 days in Disney World, we are tired and ready to go home."

Peggy Ley of Houston took the situation in stride.

No, she would not miss her flight to Houston. But she did miss seeing a niece who was supposed to have arrived at the airport early so the two could exchange early Christmas gifts.

Roadways had cleared, and everything was open by 4: 30 p.m.

Greene said motorists were told to unload their departing passengers on the roadway before approaching the terminal, then were routed through a parking lot and back onto the exit road. Passengers from arriving flights were prevented from leaving the terminal for a time, too.

Julie Waldron, 17, of Fallston was delayed more than an hour upon returning home from a Florida vacation after she collected her baggage and went to catch a shuttle. After a few minutes' wait, she and the other travelers realized that no traffic was moving in front of the lower baggage-claim exit where they were waiting.

"Then, they said there was a suspected bomb in an Avis rental car in the parking garage," she said. "We all started talking -- and then we noticed all the police."

Finally, they found they could walk to the edge of the road, and catch a bus where traffic was being rerouted.

Matt Jenkins, a driver for the Park and Go shuttle, said a five-minute trip took 30 to 45 minutes during the height of the alert.

The Federal Aviation Administration Flight Service Station in Elkins, W.Va., had no air-traffic advisories or delays posted for BWI during the incident. Airport administration sources said the incident did not involve a threat.

In August, after the crash of TWA Flight 800 off Long Island, N.Y., domestic travelers were warned to be in line at least an hour and a half before departure or risk missing their planes as a result of increased security.

Alison Duquette, a spokeswoman for the FAA in Washington, said: "As always, the FAA continues to encourage airline passengers to arrive early and to have proper identification with them. Please, come early, bring ID and don't leave your bags unattended."

Pub Date: 11/18/96

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