Screeners eluded at Oakland airport

July 12, 2007

OAKLAND -- A man slipped past Oakland International Airport screeners Tuesday morning, stranding passengers, stopping flights and eluding a search by city, county and federal authorities in the third such security breach this year.

The man walked into Terminal 1's "sterile" boarding area through an exit without being checked for weapons or explosives.

Just as in the incidents on Jan. 5 and Feb. 16, authorities were unable to find the interloper.

The trouble began at 9:05 a.m., when the man, described as 55 to 66 and 6-foot-2, walked past a sheriff's deputy and a Transportation Security Administration guard, authorities said.

"He went through the exit lane that is located adjacent to the Terminal 1 passenger screening area,"' said airport spokeswoman Rosemary Barnes.

Both incoming and outgoing flights were stopped and both terminals were sealed off and separated by an emergency barrier as searchers swept gates 26 through 32, authorities said.

The terminals, which were not evacuated during the incident, reopened at 10:43 a.m. Airlines held flights so passengers who were kept from the terminals could get through long security lines and make their flights, some of which were delayed as much as two hours, said airport spokeswoman Jane Holloway.

The year's third case of someone bypassing airport security raised questions about the effectiveness of security measures.

"Three in seven months is a lot. It is unusual,"' said Stephen Irwin, a security consultant and former supervisor and manager at both San Francisco and Oakland airports. "How can anybody tell you right now, how do you know that individual, unscreened, didn't have a bomb or a gun on them?"'

But Barnes said the security system in place did ensure passengers' safety.

"We didn't find this male today, but we took all the necessary steps so that we can ensure a safe and secure facility for our users,"' Barnes said Tuesday. "There's a lot of people and lives at stake, so we have very stringent security protocol that we follow."'

TSA spokesman Nico Melendez also said his agency "took the necessary steps" to address the "security incident."'

"Sometimes they find 'em, sometimes they don't," he said. "Sometimes they have a complete description, sometimes they don't."

Reach Erik Nelson of the Oakland Tribune at or at 510-208-6410.