- The Washington Times - Friday, February 8, 2002

A false alarm by a detection machine at Baltimore-Washington International Airport caused the evacuation of nearly 2,000 passengers about noon yesterday and eventually delayed 47 Southwest Airlines flights.

"It involved equipment. There was some sort of malfunction," said Southwest spokeswoman Brandy King, referring to five machines at the security checkpoint for Pier B that serves only Southwest flights.

The machine was not one of the big, new, expensive bomb-detection machines being tested at BWI to meet year-end federal requirements that all luggage be examined for explosives, said Christine Turneabe-Connelly, another Southwest spokeswoman.

The fault occurred at 11:40 a.m. as passengers were checking in for five outgoing flights. By 1:10 p.m., the emergency alert was traced to the faulty machine. The passengers who had been evacuated had to go through security checks again at the four other machines.

"There were between 1,500 and 2,000 passengers," said Mrs. King, and the delay of the five outgoing flights necessarily delayed other Southwest flights.

"There was no security breach," said another Southwest spokeswoman, Melanie Jones. "Just an abundance of caution."

After passengers had been removed, Pier B was inspected by security personnel and bomb-sniffing dogs. The detection machines were examined and the "fault" located in the bad machine.

The emergency evacuation did not disrupt or delay incoming flights, said BWI spokeswoman Nancy Sites.

BWI began testing the new, costly, explosives-detection scanners last month. The tests are estimated to take three months. The machines, each about the size of a minivan, cost $1 million apiece. BWI will need at least 25 of them.

Some of the costs will be paid from $37.7 billion that Congress is expected to approve to increase homeland security since the September 11 terrorists attacks. A small portion of the cost will be covered by $2.50 from each ticket sold by commercial airlines, said Rep. Albert R. Wynn, Maryland Democrat.

If the 9,000-pound Explosive-Detection System machine works as expected at BWI, other EDS scanners will be installed at major airports across the nation, Mr. Wynn said.

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