The Associated Press
SEATAC — An unplugged metal detector sparked a partial evacuation of Seattle-Tacoma International Airport and delayed travelers for hours Saturday.
Hundreds of travelers crowded the main terminal for hours waiting to be rechecked after all concourses and satellites were cleared at about 9 a.m. The areas were reopened by noon, but crowding continued.
About 100 flights were delayed or otherwise affected, said airport spokesman Bob Parker.
One TWA jet already in flight was called back. Eight to 10 airborne United Airlines jets were allowed to proceed, but passengers were rescreened upon landing.
The incident began about 8 a.m. when a National Guardsman standing watch at the airport’s north checkpoint noticed that one of the archway metal detectors was not functioning, said Mike Fergus of the Federal Aviation Administration.
The metal detector’s plug had come loose in its socket on the airport floor "for a period of about 15 minutes, as far as we can tell," said Jack Evans, a spokesman for Alaska Airlines, which operates the checkpoint.
"Our hats are off to the National Guardsmen. They’re not just window dressing; they’re paying attention to what’s going on," Fergus said.
Hundreds of people gathered in the main terminal after all four concourses and both satellites were evacuated about 9 a.m. Saturday.
The C and D concourses and north satellite were reopened about two hours later, and the remaining A and B concourses and south satellite reopened about noon.
"We’re getting back to normal operations, but we still have large crowds to move," Parker said. He added that the crowds were calm.
An unknown number of people had crossed through the north security checkpoint, operated by Alaska Airlines, before the malfunction was detected, Parker said.
The detector at issue is used for crew, employees, passengers with no carry-on bags, and "elite status" frequent flyers, who are the airline’s most frequent travelers, Alaska Airlines spokesman Jack Evans said.
The checkpoint is run by Huntleigh USA Corp. of St. Louis, which provides security at numerous airports. A company manager at SeaTac would not comment Saturday.
Areas past the checkpoint — C and D concourses and the north satellite — were evacuated once the problem was discovered, Parker said. Security people with bomb-sniffing dogs checked the areas.
The Federal Aviation Administration was concerned that someone could reach other areas as well, he said, so the A and B concourses and the south satellite were also evacuated.
The outside drive for people arriving for flights was blocked off, Parker said, so overflow crowds could be moved there and so National Guard members and police usually stationed there could help inside the airport.
Passengers already on jets had to return for rescreening, said Fergus of the FAA. One TWA flight was recalled and eight to 10 United Airlines flights proceeded to their destinations, with authorities at their destinations notified that passengers needed to be rescreened on arrival.
Jets were allowed to land during the difficulty, but passengers stayed on board, Parker said. An unknown number of flights were delayed as airlines waited for the passengers to clear security again.
Last week, the airport was shut down for two hours when a food service worker went through a Northwest Airlines checkpoint after being asked to stop. About 7,000 passengers on 50 flights were delayed after the woman scooted onto a train from the main terminal to the south satellite terminal. She was stopped shortly afterward and nothing illegal was found.
After that incident, a Huntleigh duty manager and supervisor were suspended, said a spokeswoman for Northwest Airlines.
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