Friday, November 28, 2008

Comair Employee Sneaks Guns And Drugs Past Security

A security breach at Orlando International Airport last year that led to increased scrutiny of airport workers nationwide was mishandled by officials, possibly in violation of security rules, a federal report says.

The incident on March 5, 2007, in which an airline worker for Delta subsidiary Comair sneaked 14 guns on board an Orlando-to-Puerto Rico flight, prompted calls for the Transportation Security Administration to screen everyone working at an airport.

The plane, Delta Flight 933, landed safely at the San Juan airport where the worker, Thomas Anthony Munoz, was arrested. A Homeland Security Department inspector general report says the mishandling raises broader concerns.

"Delta might have failed" to follow a security procedure requiring airlines to immediately notify the TSA of a possible security threat, the report says.

TSA chief Kip Hawley blamed the Orlando Police Department, which protects the airport.

The report is the first accounting of apparent errors that day after Orlando police got a tip that a worker was on Flight 933 "with a weapon." Police took Zabdiel Santiago Balaguer, who worked for Delta subsidiary Comair, off the plane while it was at the airport gate.

A Delta manager at Orlando cleared Flight 933 to leave after the captain said he was comfortable flying, according to the report.

Police did not tell the TSA until shortly after Flight 933 took off, the report says, though Orlando police dispute that account.

Munoz remained on the plane with the guns and 8 pounds of marijuana.

Airport and TSA officials realized Munoz was a passenger when the flight was halfway to Puerto Rico. Munoz evaded airport security by carrying the duffel bag through an employee entrance that leads to airplanes, the report said. He and Balaguer were trying to smuggle the guns and drugs to Puerto Rico.

Aviation-security consultant Douglas Laird said Delta should have told the TSA as soon as it heard from Orlando police. "They never should have left the gate," he said. The TSA probably would have emptied the plane, screened passengers for a second time and searched the cabin, Laird said.

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