A new furor over airport security broke out Thursday after the discovery that a British Airways jet flew with an explosive aboard for at least two weeks because police on a bomb-detection exercise for dogs forgot to remove it.
The gelignite was tucked in a seat pocket in economy class of the Boeing 747, news reports said. Authorities would not say when the gelignite was put on the plane.
The incident was particularly embarrassing to British officials trying to tighten security after the Dec. 21 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. The Air Transport Users Committee, a consumer group, called it “the sort of carelessness we can’t afford.”
Lawmaker David Wilshire of the governing Conservative Party said the public is always being told that British Airways is among the most security-minded airlines.
“My mind boggles at the thought of what airlines in Timbuktu are like if this is the best,” he said. “The worst must be mind-blowingly incompetent.”
The chairman of British Airways, Lord King, said the explosives worked their way through the upholstery and that a cleaner found them Monday after the jet returned to Heathrow Airport from Toronto.
Police Inspector Andrew Nielson said the gelignite weighed less than a pound and was four inches long and less than an inch wide. He said the substance had no detonator, could not explode by itself and “at the very worst it could flare up if ignited by fire.”
King said that even if the substance posed no danger, “that’s not the point. It might have been something that was dangerous.” He promised an investigation, adding, “If heads fall, they fall.”
The explosives were brought aboard the plane to test security but were overlooked by police dogs trained to search for bombs, authorities said.