ORLANDO, FL (CBS) A Transportation Security Administration officer ran towards danger yesterday and made sure a smoking, exploding backpack would not harm passengers. The officer – a 20-year veteran of the Army before joining the TSA – swooped in and ran the bag away from travelers and placed it between a concrete column and a concrete planter to mitigate any harm that might come with a full explosion.
The incident outside the Orlando International Airport West Checkpoint was created by what was originally thought to be an improvised explosive device (IED), but which later turned out to be an exploding battery in a passenger’s backpack. The surveillance video clearly shows passengers immediately reacting to the sights and sounds of an explosion with smoke coming from the backpack by running away from the area. As the passengers were running from the Checkpoint one of our TSA officers heard the explosion and saw the smoking bag. Putting protection of the traveling public above his personal safety, he ran and picked up the bag and ran away with what he believed to be an improvised explosive device in order to move it away from the panicked passengers. He did this while hundreds of passengers panicked and knocked over the one ropes and dropped roller bags, creating loud banging sounds which were perceived as gun shots, further spreading panic throughout the airport.
CCTV shows un-screened passengers rushing and running through the security checkpoints and into the sterile area without being screened while they sought safety. This security breach led TSA to direct a ground stop and the re-screening of more than 5,000 passengers. A security sweep of was done and the safety precautions affected more than 100 flights. The entire incident lasted approximately four hours from start to finish to get all passengers re-screened. This monumental task was accomplished in close coordination of the TSA, Orlando Police Department, the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority and the Federal Aviation Administration.
TSA Orlando routinely conducts active shooter drills and TSA officers are trained to direct passengers to safety. While there was not an actual threat, the combined actions of TSA, OPD, GOAA and FAA would have undoubtedly saved lives, had there been an actual threat. Given the circumstances, passengers reacted to what they saw and heard and reacted in a very reasonable manner given the current threat environment.
“Our TSA Team’s performance was outstanding. I’m very proud of our team and how they responded to both the incident and the recovery process of re-screening passengers,” said TSA Federal Security Director Jerry Henderson. “Our people responded as they are trained to do, and to lead passengers to safety. I am especially proud of our Officer who unselfishly rushed to a potentially deadly situation in order to protect lives.”
This incident occurred 4 years after LAX TSA Officer Gerardo Hernandez was murdered by an active shooter at LA.