Tuesday, September 25, 2012

15 guns, other oddities seized at San Antonio airport this year


 SAN ANTONIO -- For the fourth time since Aug. 1, Transportation Security Administration officers at San Antonio International Airport have discovered a firearm inside a carry-on bag.

The latest incident happened on Wednesday in Terminal B and involved a man on an American Airlines flight bound for Dallas-Fort Worth. The passenger was arrested. His .22-caliber handgun was seized, along with nine rounds of ammunition and one in the chamber.

“There are some things we don’t want on a plane ever,” said TSA Federal Security Director Leo Vasquez, Jr.

Of the more than 800 guns detected by TSA in carry-on bags this year, Vasquez said 15 of them were uncovered at the San Antonio airport.

What’s often legal to possess on the ground does not get the same clearance in the skies, especially since the 9/11 attacks. Over the last year, TSA officers at the San Antonio airport have stopped all kinds of prohibited items.

On July 24, TSA officers turned up a set of brass knuckles in a carry-on bag. On June 15, officers discovered an Airsoft Gun in a checked piece of luggage that bore a striking resemblance to an AR-15 Grenade Launcher. On July 26, TSA officers found throwing stars in a carry-on bag.

“We do not want something in the cabin of the plane that could be used as a weapon,” said Vasquez, who supervises TSA security at eight South Texas airports, including San Antonio International.

Even the seemingly innocuous sometimes gets flagged. A turtle got stopped by TSA in the checked bagged of a passenger flying out of San Antonio earlier this year. The passengers stated he saw the turtle on the side of the road on his way to the airport and decided he wanted to take it home with him. TSA contacted the airline, which stated the turtle would not be transported on their flight. The turtle was eventually turned over to Sea World San Antonio.

“It was a fine looking Texas turtle,” Vasquez said. “It’s just not allowed on the plane.”

Unlike the days after September 11 -- when Vasquez estimated that, at most, four percent of checked luggage was inspected by security in San Antonio -- these days, there's 100 percent scrutiny by TSA officers. Back then, luggage was physically searched, and randomly selected. Now, all baggage is electronically screened in the bowels of the airport, with some bags then additionally vetted by TSA agents, who pore through baggage looking for possible threats.

It’s a multi-layered campaign by TSA to keep the skies safe, both in San Antonio and nationwide. Intelligence is used in concert with technology and manpower.

“You juxtapose what we have now to what we had 11 years ago, there’s no comparison," Vasquez said. "That doesn’t mean we’re perfect. It’s a huge organization. ... There’s almost 2 million people flying a day in the United States. ... So you know perfection is never going to be there, but we do strive for it.”


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