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Gas Leak Forces Capital’s National Airport to Close

From Times Staff and Wire Reports

The rupture of a 6-inch gas main closed National Airport on Friday night, forcing evacuation of the main terminal and control tower and delaying dozens of flights on the eve of a three-day holiday weekend, police and airport officials said.

According to a desk officer at the Arlington County Police Department, the airport sought assistance from neighboring police and fire departments at 8:32 p.m. EDT. One woman was overcome by fumes and taken to a hospital, but no other injuries were reported.

Flights destined for the airport in suburban Virginia were either grounded at their origin or rerouted to other airports, including nearby Dulles International or Baltimore-Washington International, a spokeswoman for United Airlines said.

One airport official said a bus struck a gas line that runs along a vehicular tunnel under the main terminal.

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As a strong smell of natural gas filled the area, airport authorities began evacuating hundreds of people from the main terminal and the air traffic control tower.

While a smaller terminal that services USAir and Delta Air Lines flights was not directly affected, it too was evacuated because air traffic controllers could no longer monitor flights.

The evacuation stranded those aboard at least one United Airlines flight that had already landed at the airport.

Dave Schultz, pilot of Flight 634, landed his plane at the airport about 8:40 p.m., but told passengers that they would have to remain on board because no service personnel were available to supply equipment needed to help them disembark.

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He reportedly told passengers that at least one other plane, an Air Canada flight, was circling Baltimore after trying to land at the Washington airport.

“We’re making the best out of what is obviously a very bad situation,” Schultz told Reuters.

The airport was reopened after about two hours and all passengers, including many returning from the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, deplaned safely, officials said.

Airport spokeswoman Tara Hamilton said the airport would open on schedule this morning.

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