Novelty hand grenades prompt evacuation of BWI Airport terminal

May 14, 2001|By Frank D. Roylance | Frank D. Roylance,SUN STAFF

Two men who attempted to board a British Airways jet yesterday with a bag full of novelty hand grenades were described as "surprised" when the devices triggered an evacuation that delayed hundreds of passengers at Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

Authorities ordered the closing and partial evacuation of the International Terminal. Several arriving and departing flights were delayed for hours, and hundreds of passengers were stranded in their planes or in the terminal.

No charges were filed against the two men, who caught their flight to London two hours late.

Although the men told police the hollowed-out grenades were harmless, investigators could not be sure and had to assume they were live weapons.

"Any item that can be construed as a weapon, or possible explosive device, will not be allowed on any airplanes, or through any of the screening positions," said Cpl. Gregory Prioleau, spokesman for state transportation police.

The incident began about 3 p.m. when two men placed a carry-on bag into the X-ray machine at the security checkpoint.

Police described the men as British citizens, ages 35 and 34.

When the security personnel spotted the grenades, they called transportation authority police, who ordered all airport patrons, airline employees and U.S. Customs officials to evacuate the area.

BWI spokeswoman Harriet Sagel said people who had cleared security were moved from the checkpoint to Gate E6. Those who hadn't were moved back to a safe area of the terminal.

While the two men were taken away and questioned, deputies from the state fire marshal's office were called in to examine the bag.

Departing flights were delayed, and hundreds of passengers aboard three incoming international flights were stranded until the terminal was reopened at 5:40 p.m., Sagel said.

While police questioned the men and checked their names with Interpol, the pair's luggage was found and searched. Nothing suspicious was found, Sagel said.

The men, whose names were not released, told police they had been vacationing in Maryland and bought the novelty grenades at a three-day military flea market this weekend at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Prioleau said.

"They actually seemed quite surprised about the whole incident," Prioleau said.

The grenades were to be destroyed by the state fire marshal's office.

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