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Bomb threat on plane proved to be false alarm

Tania Chatila

A runway at Bob Hope Airport was shut down for more than two hours

Sunday and an aircraft evacuated after airport officials received

word of a bomb threat on a Southwest Airlines.

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Southwest Flight 117 heading toward Phoenix departed from Burbank

at 4:40 p.m. only to be brought back an hour later, said Victor Gill,

director of public affairs and communications for the Bob Hope

Airport.

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Southwest Airlines received an anonymous call shortly after the

flight’s departure that there was a bomb on the plane, Gill said, and

relayed the message to officials at the Burbank Airport. Southwest

decided the plane would return to Burbank, where it landed around

5:30 p.m. and was directed to a location away from buildings and

other aircrafts for inspection, Gill said.

“Southwest Airlines places safety as a No. 1 priority,” Southwest

spokeswoman Ginger Hardage said. “That influenced the decision to

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return the aircraft to Burbank.”

About 120 passengers were evacuated from the plane via the

emergency slides and bused back to the airport terminal, where they

were directed to stay until inspections of the plane were completed.

The aircraft was inspected by an Los Angeles International Airport

K9 unit, said Burbank Airport Police Chief Steve Staveley.

The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department bomb squad and the FBI

were also present.

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Nothing suspicious was uncovered, Staveley said.

One the airport’s two runways was shut down, but the airport was

never closed, Gill said.

“There were some initial very short-term air traffic delays ...

not substantial in my view,” Gill said. “If there were delays, they

were of a very short-term duration.”

Clearing the plane to depart again took about two hours, at which

point Southwest brought out a second aircraft to fly passengers to

the intended destination.

“Some [of the passengers] elected not to go, but most of them did

go [on to Phoenix],” Gill said. “We are glad that there was no truth

to the threat that was turned in. We feel very fortunate we were able

to keep the airport in operation during this event.”

Airport police are currently working with Burbank Police

Department and the FBI in trying to locate the caller who initially

made the threat to Southwest, Staveley said.

If found, the individual could face federal and state charges.

“It is very disheartening that someone would chose to pull a hoax

like this that inconvenienced a lot of people,” Hardage said. “We try

to work with authorities on issues like these all the way to

prosecution, if we’re able to.”

The incident was one of several bomb threats in Los Angeles

Sunday. Reports of suspicious packages were called into several areas

throughout Los Angeles, including an abandoned backpack at Union

Station and a package at the Metro Red Line headquarters on Figueroa

Street.

But this kind of activity is considered normal for an area the

size of Los Angeles County, Staveley said.

“It’s just a normal flow of things,” said Staveley. “That’s the

way things are routinely. And I’m sure with press coverage we are

going to have copycats.”

Bob Hope Airport is listed as a possible terror target on a list

compiled by the Glendale Police Department.

“Periodically, from time to time, you receive those types of

threats at large public venues,” Glendale Police Assistant Chief Ron

DePompa said. “We have not seen an increase in those incidents in the

last couple of years as a result of the increased awareness in ...

terrorism. However, we want to be hyper-vigilant on those potential

targets that have been identified in the surrounding area.”

Glendale Police was informed of Sunday’s incident, but was asked

not to respond after the threat was determined a hoax, DePompa said.

“Since the 9/11 event we have joined with the fire department in

taking every proactive step in relation to planning and training in

potential target awareness,” he said.


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