Airport Security Not So Tight

Aug 16, 2006 5:58pm

A woman managed to slip four cigarette lighters, some loose matches and an open container of petroleum jelly past security officials at London’s Heathrow Airport on a flight bound for Dulles Airport in Washington, D.C., this morning, ABC has learned.

All of those items are currently banned on U.S.-bound flights, U.S. authorities said.

Even so the discovery of the items did not trigger the security threat that resulted. The items were only found aboard United Flight 923 when shortly after 9:00 am, a female passenger complained of being claustrophobic, got into an argument with airline flight attendants and was forcibly restrained, Massachusetts police told ABC News.

The woman, later identified as Catherine Mayo, 59, of Vermont, was held pending federal charges. There was no evidence that she had a terrorist intent "at this time," a senior security official said. But that matter was still under investigation.

Following the discovery of the items,  aggressive security measures were triggered by an emergency message from the pilot of the Boeing 767.  Emergency protocols in this instance called for diversion of the flight and a search of the plane by bomb squads and a heavy weapons team once on the ground.

A senior TSA official’s statement earlier in the day that the woman had no banned items in her possession was incorrect, according to Boston Homeland Security officials and Massachusetts State Police.

Officials say a bottle of water in the woman’s possession aboard the plane is highly likely to have been obtained aboard — it bore the airline logo. But all the other items at this time appear to have slipped through airport security in London despite the stringent measures initiated last week as news of a suicide airplane bomb plot involving as many as ten passenger jets unfolded.

Passenger accounts that suggested the woman might have been a journalist testing security were discounted by authorities in Boston and in Washington. So were reports that she had a screwdriver in her possession were also discredited.

United Flight 923 landed at Boston’s Logan Airport and was directed to an isolated area where it was searched for explosives. None were found.

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