John Wayne Airport shut down, flights delayed after report of armed man
Orange County’s John Wayne Airport was shut down and hundreds of passengers were delayed for more than an hour Friday as airport officials investigated a report that a boarding passenger had pulled a weapon out of a duffel bag.
“We were called to find this person and we found him,” said Lt. Lloyd Downing, a spokesman for the Orange County Sheriff’s Department. “It was a security breach and the [Transportation Security Administration] ordered a complete shutdown. If he did have something, we had to find it.”
The unidentified passenger was detained but no weapon was found, Downing said.
The incident began about 6 p.m., he said, when someone reported seeing the man pull a weapon in Terminal B. Authorities did not say what type of weapon it was. As officers questioned him, the airport’s two terminals were searched.
In the meantime, airport spokeswoman Jenny Wedge said, nine planes that had landed waited with passengers aboard while all outgoing flights were delayed. “The reason we would do something like this is to secure the safety and security of the airport and everybody there,” she said. “It’s a priority to make sure the airport is secure.”
At about 7:15 p.m., Wedge said, two planes that had already been boarded were allowed to take off and screening resumed of all passengers for outgoing flights, but at least two flights were canceled and many more were delayed.
“This is very unusual,” she said. “It’s an unfortunate event that has to happen, but in this day and age this is how these things are treated.”
Many passengers, who were asked to leave the terminal and form long lines to be re-screened, seemed to be taking it all in stride.
“I’d rather they do this and keep us safe,” said Adam Maloney, 30, en route from a business trip to his home in Michigan. “We were in a restaurant while the dogs were sniffing around. They wouldn’t let you go to the bathroom for 40 minutes.”
Chris Lynch, 40, of North Carolina said he wasn’t surprised by what was going on. “I travel all the time,” he said. “This happens. This is an example of how the terrorists have won. We’re super heightened aware. A second ago, a garbage can fell over and everybody jumped.”
By 9 p.m. airport officials were expressing relief that nothing dangerous had been found.
“This is pretty rough for a Friday night,” Wedge said. “We’re just doing the best we can to get everyone through this and on their way.”