Philadelphia International Airport was closed briefly today after a drunken man drove his SUV through a fence and onto two runways, leading police on a high speed chase, sparking a terrorism scare and forcing an air traffic controller to order a passenger plane to abort its landing, authorities said.
The suspect, Kenneth Richard Mazik, 24, of Chadds Ford, Pa., has been arrested and charged with driving under the influence, simple and aggravated assault, and several counts of reckless endangerment, defiant trespass and criminal mischief.
Witnesses say Mazik drove his Jeep Cherokee through an airport construction gate only a few yards from the runway at about 10 a.m. The man headed directly for the landing area just as U.S. Airways Flight 3137, a commuter jet, was about to land, they added. At the last minute, a controller ordered the pilot to pull up.
“We’ve got a rogue vehicle driving around on the airport,” one controller said, advising other aircraft of the incident and a likely delay. “We got to catch him. We’re not moving anybody until we find this guy.”
All runways were re-opened by 4 p.m.
Witnesses say it seemed as though Mazik attempted to time it so that the Jeep would meet the plane as it landed, according to a report from ABC affiliate WPVI-TV in Philadelphia. Police say Mazik never made it to the runway; officers were able to stop him first.
“The ground radar kicked in; the tower was alerted immediately and they made sure to divert flights coming in and then quickly shut the airport down,” Philadelphia Police Chief Inspector Joseph Sullivan said, according to WPVI.
Mazik appeared to be intoxicated when he was finally apprehended, police said.
The incident has raised questions about security at the airport, but the facility’s deputy director, Keith Prune, said security was good.
“We do have security perimeter checks on a regular basis, multiple times, every shift throughout the entire day, so we’re fairly confident with our security,” Prune said.
Police checked the Jeep for explosives or other suspect material. The reported they did not find anything.