Anne Jefferson has a piece of advice for travelers: Be sure to check the trunk of your rental car.
Jefferson, 27, a recently minted Ph.D. and researcher in the geosciences department at Oregon State University, concluded a combined business and holiday trip to Minnesota on Sunday, dropping off a rental car at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport before boarding a plane to Portland, Ore., with her husband.
By the time they arrived there, armed officers were waiting for them, and in the Twin Cities, portions of the terminal parking ramp had been closed for about two hours after authorities found a suspicious looking device in the spare tire compartment of the couple's rental car.
It was actually equipment that Jefferson had been using in her research on water temperatures in stream channels. She intended to mail it back to Oregon, but she just forgot about it.
She had picked up the device, called the Stowaway Tidbit Temp Loggers, from the St. Anthony Falls Lab along the Mississippi River on Wednesday. The equipment includes several lengths of 1-inch plastic pipe filled with gravel, all linked to 15 flashing electronic monitors. She stowed it in the tire compartment to keep the gravel from showering all over the trunk.
"I went to my in-laws and enjoyed a lovely Thanksgiving," Jefferson said. "We intended to mail the equipment back to Oregon rather than take it through the airport because we figured it could raise concerns. We just never opened the trunk again."
When the couple got to Portland, Jefferson's husband was paged while still aboard the plane. "Then they paged him more insistently," Jefferson recalled Monday night. "I looked at him and said 'I bet I left the probes in the car."'
An airline agent met them at the gate. "So did five uniformed airport police with flak jackets and guns," Jefferson said. "They asked us if we knew what this was about. We said we had left some scientific equipment in a rental car."
The interrogation took about 20 minutes, and after a call to Minneapolis, the couple was released. "Everyone was really decent," Jefferson said.
Her equipment didn't fare as well. Officers with the Bloomington Police Department bomb squad destroyed it.
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The note writer, who appeared to be about 35 years old, was taken into custody and hospitalized.
"It had wires coming out of it, and shrapnel attached, and it was concealed in the cargo area in a way where you wouldn't see it if you were just casually looking into the trunk."
The employee worked for subsidiary Delta Global Services, which hires workers who handle bags and help planes park.
Security cameras were used in the disappearance of a traveler's credit cards.