Bomb Hoax Diverts Jets From LAX for 1 1/2 Hours

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Los Angeles International Airport was closed to incoming flights for an hour and 36 minutes Monday morning after a telephoned bomb threat forced closure of the airport control tower. No bomb was found.

Fifteen incoming flights were diverted to airports in Ontario, Burbank and San Diego, and nine other inbound planes were placed in holding patterns over the California desert for as long as 39 minutes, Federal Aviation Administration officials said.

In addition, the FAA initiated a nationwide "flow control" procedure under which some other flights bound for Los Angeles were ordered to slow down if aloft or were held on the ground past their scheduled takeoff times, FAA spokeswoman Elly Brekke said.

Brekke said such holds, slowdowns and diversions are not uncommon and pose no safety hazards.

The bomb threat came from a man who telephoned the regional FAA offices in Hawthorne about 9:15 a.m, Brekke said. The full content of the threat was not disclosed.

After conferring with officials from the Los Angeles Police Department and the Los Angeles Department of Airports, the FAA decided to shut down its tower operations on the top two floors of the 12-story tower structure at 9:33 a.m. The control tower sits atop the airport administration building at the east end of the main airport passenger terminal complex, west of Sepulveda Boulevard.

Four controllers and a supervisor volunteered to stay behind to direct traffic on the ground and control takeoffs, Brekke said. Eleven other control personnel were sent to a smaller tower at the west end of the airport. The smaller tower is equipped for use as a backup facility if the main tower is forced out of operation.

Before the smaller tower could be placed in operation, however, police bomb squad experts finished their search and announced that no bomb had been found. The controllers returned to the main tower at 10:45 a.m. and resumed full operations there shortly after 11.

Brekke said that because of the backup caused by the holds and diversions, air traffic at the airport did not return to normal until about 1 p.m.

The incident was under investigation by the FAA and the FBI.

The main tower at the airport is used to control landings, takeoffs and plane traffic on the runways, taxiways and aprons. Approaches to the airport and the departure traffic immediately after takeoff are controlled by the Los Angeles Terminal Radar Control (TRACON) facility, in a hangar on the south side of the field. Air traffic over Southern California generally is controlled by the FAA's regional center in Palmdale.

Under most circumstances, control of planes heading toward the Los Angeles airport is passed from Palmdale to the Los Angeles TRACON to the tower. The planes put in holding patterns Monday were under the control of Palmdale. Those diverted to other airports were passed by Palmdale to TRACONs serving the other airports.

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