Irritant at BWI still a mystery, officials say

April 11, 2002|BY A SUN STAFF WRITER

Officials at Baltimore-Washington International Airport said yesterday that they may never know how a chemical irritant escaped into the air Tuesday night in front of an America West ticket counter, sending four people to local hospitals.

Airport officials closed AirTran and America West ticket counters in Concourse D after several people working to ready a flight to Los Angeles complained of eye irritations and breathing difficulties. Maryland Transportation Authority Police, assisted by dogs, tried to find the irritant in America West's area for checked luggage behind the ticket counter.

"They never found the source of it and the air cleared up, so whatever it was dissipated," BWI spokesman John White said.

An Anne Arundel County hazardous materials unit tested the air and determined that the odor was from a Mace or pepper spray substance, said John M. Scholz, division chief for the county's Fire Department. Airport officials thought the substance escaped from checked luggage.

America West spokeswoman Janice Monahan identified the injured as employees of the Phoenix, Ariz.-based airline, saying all passengers on the Los Angeles flight were on the plane when the incident occurred.

County paramedics helped the BWI Fire Department treat seven people, Scholz said. Four were sent to hospitals for further observation and were released that night.

Four passengers of Flight 777, scheduled to depart at 8:35 p.m., were rebooked on other flights because the delay meant that they would miss their connecting flights. After all the flight's passengers were rescreened, the flight took off at 11:45 p.m.

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