An object that appeared to be a gun hidden in a carry-on bag caused delays for thousands of passengers at Baltimore-Washington International Airport yesterday morning as officials evacuated a pier and searched nine planes scheduled for takeoff.
Security workers saw the suspicious object as they passed luggage through an X-ray machine shortly before 8 a.m., officials said. Maryland Transportation Authority Police searched the bag and found nothing. They evacuated Pier C and the planes as a precaution, officials said, in case the wrong bag was stopped and searched.
State police, transportation authority police and airline security searched planes from Southwest, Northwest, America West and Frontier airlines, which were scheduled to leave about 8 a.m. Police used dog units to inspect checked luggage beneath the planes.
Incoming flights and some of the flights scheduled to leave from one of the 16 gates on Pier C were rerouted to other parts of the airport, authorities said. From 1,000 to 2,000 passengers scheduled for the 8 a.m. flights crowded the pier entrance with their bags, waiting to have their carry-on luggage examined a second time.
Some who had been aboard planes were told security had been breached, but some said they did not know the reason for the delay.
"They just said, 'Get out,' " said Ricky Hall of North Carolina, whose flight home was delayed. Hall said the security concern became "pretty obvious" when he saw officers walking dogs through the pier.
Most passengers were patient about the delay.
"I'd rather be safe, because it's going to happen one day -- some wacko terrorist is going to attack," said Beth Moore, a Los Angeles resident on her way home.
Friend Lisa Trost echoed Moore's sentiment.
"We'd be much less upset about being delayed than being dead," she said.
Airport officials said a worker called for a police officer to inspect the bag about 7: 45 a.m.
"It wasn't ordinary," said Capt. William Downing of transportation authority police. Downing said the object appeared oblong on the X-ray screen but that police could not determine what it was. When the search of the bag, which was claimed by a female passenger, did not produce anything, authorities closed the pier.
Airport officials said the action was standard procedure.
"There's the most remote possibility it was allowed to enter," said Jeff Murrin, station manager for Southwest Airlines, which provides security for Pier C. "The safety of our customers is our primary responsibility, and whenever there's a shadow of doubt, we err on the side of caution."
An airport spokesman said transportation authority police, Southwest security and the Maryland Aviation Administration, which owns the airport, will investigate the incident.