Mar. 8--A neighborhood man who later told police he had been drinking breached security at Midway Airport, apparently walking off the street, through a checkpoint and onto the airfield, officials acknowledged Tuesday.
A portion of the airfield was shut down during the incident Sunday, and a plane approaching for landing was ordered to go around after the intruder was spotted by a pilot on the ground, said Wendy Abrams, a spokeswoman for the city's Aviation Department.
The man was on the field for about six minutes before being apprehended, Abrams said. Officials said he was tearing off his clothes.
The federal government and the city spend millions of dollars a year on security at the Southwest Side field, and exactly how the man was able to escape detection is under investigation.
"This is a serious matter," said Lara Uselding, a spokeswoman for the Transportation Security Administration. "The TSA is working closely with the Department of Aviation to look into the security vulnerability and rectify the situation."
The man, identified by police as Mark Mechniek, 22, of the 5400 block of South Laramie Avenue, allegedly walked through an airfield gate staffed by a Department of Aviation security officer at 4:17 p.m.
"My understanding is that a vehicle was passing through" the gate at the time the intruder walked through, Abrams said. Whether the vehicle obscured the view of the security officer on duty, allowing the man to enter unnoticed, is one under investigation, she said.
Mechniek allegedly was spotted between Runway 4 Left and Runway 4 Right by a Southwest Airlines pilot who was holding to cross 4 Right. He apparently was seen at about the same time by control tower personnel, said Tony Molinaro, a spokesman for the Federal Aviation Administration.
Officials ordered the partial closure of the field.
Controllers instructed an incoming ATA jet to break off its landing approach, and the plane came in after the incident, Abrams said. She was unable to say how close the pilot was to touchdown when he got the message to go around.
Meanwhile, Chicago police and Aviation Department security personnel took Mechniek into custody by 4:23 p.m. near the intersection of Runway 22 Left and a taxiway.
"The offender appeared to have been drinking," said Monique Bond, a police spokeswoman. "The offender stated he had been drinking." He did not indicate why he went on the field, she said.
The runway was reopened at 4:25 p.m., and the FAA was notified, according to Abrams.
"We are looking into it to see what the security issues could have been," said Molinaro. "It is way too early to judge if it is a big issue or not. What we look at is what were the security measures, how did the person get through" and what action should be taken to prevent a similar incident.
The security officer posted at the gate, hired by the city in 2001, was put on paid administrative leave pending the conclusion of the investigation, Abrams said.
"We view all incidents regarding unauthorized individuals gaining access to secured areas of the airport very seriously," Abrams said. But "we believe this was an isolated event, and we think this gentleman was not malicious" in his intent.
The entrance where Mechniek allegedly walked through, one of three airfield checkpoints, is set back from 55th Street near 55th's intersection with Laramie. It has a sliding chain link gate fence about 20 feet high and a guard shack.
The checkpoint typically is staffed by one officer, Abrams said.
Signs on the approach to the entrance warn that it is "restricted area" and a big red sign at the checkpoint reads that those seeking entry, "must display personal ID, vehicle ID and are subject to search."
Aviation officials are trying to learn how an allegedly intoxicated man was able to walk through a security gate and onto the airfield at Midway Airport.
Mayor Richard Daley on Wednesday downplayed the importance of a weekend security breach at Midway Airport saying it was "only one incident," and he scoffed at the media play it generated.
Training of more than 225 security officers and supervisors will be conducted by the Department of Aviation in conjunction with the Transportation Security Administration.
Without video evidence, City Hall must rely on an Aviation Department security officer's version of the March 5 incident and on the word of at least one witness to the breach.