Wednesday January 30 1:47 PM ET
Shoe Scare Evacuates San Francisco Terminal
By Andrew Quinn
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Thousands of people were evacuated from a San Francisco International Airport terminal on Wednesday after security screeners detected possible explosive residue on the shoes of one passenger, who vanished before he could be questioned.
Airport spokesman Mike McCarron said the security breach occurred shortly before 7 a.m., when a man going through a random security check tested positive for some kind of explosive on his shoe.
``They screened his shoes by doing a trace wipe on them. The wipe came back as a possible positive hit of residue of some type. We don't know what yet,'' McCarron said.
``When they went to ask the gentleman some more questions he was not there anymore. He was lost in the crowd.''
The Federal Aviation Administration (news - web sites) ordered U.S. airports to perform random shoe checks in late December after passenger Richard Reid, 28, allegedly attempted to set fire to a pair of explosive sneakers on an American Airlines flight traveling from Paris to Miami.
In San Francisco, officials immediately ordered the boarding area cleared, shutting some 30 gates in the airport's Terminal 3 and delaying as many as 80 domestic flights of United Airlines, the airport's busiest carrier.
In addition, passengers who had already boarded a number of jets were told to get off and go through security screening procedures again.
FAA spokeswoman Rebecca Trexler said that six United flights took off from San Francisco Airport between the time the alarm went off and FAA security managers were notified.
Those planes were headed to Santa Ana, San Diego, Washington-Dulles, John F. Kennedy Airport in New York, Denver and Los Angeles. All passengers coming off those flights will be screened when the planes land, Trexler said.
In San Francisco, passengers and airport workers were allowed to re-enter the terminal at around 10 a.m. after the building was given the all-clear. United officials said it would take hours to clear the backlog.
``We estimate that about 2,000 passengers have been affected,'' United spokesman Joe Hopkins said.
NO SIGN OF THE SUSPECT
Authorities said they had turned up no sign of the suspect, described only as a white male in his 40's.
McCarron said it was unclear if the man was even aware that his shoes had raised a security alarm.
``He may not have even known they wanted to talk to him ... but he was lost in the crowd rather quickly. It's a very busy time here at the airport,'' McCarron said.
Ron Wilson, the airport's chief spokesman, said the man's shoes had set off an ``explosive trace detector'', a piece of equipment set to scan for eight or nine different types of explosives.
``This particular shoe, or this individual, apparently had his hands on explosive material,'' Wilson said.
``It doesn't necessarily have to be a military explosive. Nitroglycerin, which is a heart medicine, can also trigger this device. But it is an extremely delicate piece of equipment and can pick up microscopic amounts, trace amounts, of explosive.''
Federal Bureau of Investigation officials said they still had not determined what had been on the man's shoes.
``It's still too early to say what we have here. I think you have to take every precaution,'' said Andrew Black, a spokesman for the FBI (news - web sites) in San Francisco.
``They have to try to locate him and re-screen everybody,'' Black said.
Joe Hopkins, a spokesman for United Airlines, said about 80 flights into and out of San Francisco had been affected by the evacuation, and that the airline was warning passengers to expect delays.
``There will be effects into and out of San Francisco for the rest of the day,'' Hopkins said. ``There will be some domino effect in some other places, but most of our national system should be unaffected.''
He's in the states and still missing like Osama Bin.