Overhead Bin Leaks Acid, Burns Passengers

P R I N C E   G E O R G E, British Columbia, Feb. 6, 2001 -- A woman traveling on a Canadian Regional Airlines jet suffered a serious burn to her face after a corrosive liquid leaked out of an overhead baggage bin.

The woman was taken to Vancouver General Hospital's burn unit for treatment of third-degree burns. One other passenger was burned and several others went to hospital after inhaling the fumes.

Airport manager Stieg Hoeg said the liquid — believed to be an industrial-strength drain cleaner — was brought onto the plane in carry-on luggage.

A review of security procedures found airport screening staff followed the regulations. Hoeg said the RCMP are also investigating.

"I can't see anything that could be done differently," he said. "However, we will re-educate airport staff on dangerous goods."

A checklist of more than 30 prohibited items is posted at both the check-in counter and at the security gate, Hoeg said.

Passengers are asked at least once if they're bringing any banned substances and it's up to the passengers to ensure they're in compliance, he said.

"There is some onus here on the travellers to make sure the [airline] is aware of what they are handling, or what they're carrying," Hoeg said.

The metal detector and X-ray machine catch most banned goods but they don't get all items, depending on how they're stored, and didn't detect the corrosive liquid in this case, he said.

No Corrosives Allowed

Hoeg said it's illegal to take that kind of corrosive material aboard a passenger plane.

Dangerous goods must be properly packaged and labelled, Maurice Landry, regional communications director of Transport Canada, said from Moncton, New Brunswick.

Offenders can be fined $50,000 or receive a prison sentence of up to two years, he said.

Incidents of prohibited dangerous items on board airplanes are not uncommon, although injuries are more rare, Landry said.

Ten passengers and four crew members were aboard the plane when it arrived at Vancouver International Airport in the Vancouver suburb of Richmond.

A special crew of Vancouver firefighters was called in to deal with the hazardous chemical.

Richmond RCMP are investigating the incident but don't know whether it's a criminal matter, said spokesman Constable Peter Thiessen.