Driver rams isle airport terminal
No one is hurt in the security breach at the interisland baggage claim
Officials say they will increase security at the Honolulu Airport's interisland terminal after a 26-year-old man rammed his car through glass doors and drove about 100 yards through the Hawaiian to Aloha airlines baggage claim areas as security guards yelled for him to stop.
No one was injured yesterday afternoon, but a state Transportation Department spokesman said it is fortunate that no one was standing in front of the doors and that only a handful of people were in the area.
After the incident, airport officials evacuated the Hawaiian and Aloha airlines baggage claim areas for about an hour.
"We're going to take a look at security ... to make sure we don't have any copycats," state Transportation Department spokesman Scott Ishikawa said yesterday, adding that concrete barriers will likely be placed in front of the airport's ground-level doors.
State deputy sheriffs arrested the suspect last night on an outstanding traffic warrant for an unrelated car crash. He is expected to be charged today on more serious counts.
Ishikawa said the suspect was driving a 1997 Dodge Neon in the middle lane in front of Hawaiian Airline's baggage claim area "B," when he took a hard right and drove over a wheelchair ramp into double electronic doors at about 4:55 p.m.
It is unclear how fast the suspect was going, but he was able to take the doors off their hinges and created skid marks on the baggage claim area's floor.
Once the suspect got into the terminal, he drove past two Hawaiian Airlines carousels and into an Aloha Airlines baggage claim area.
Freelance photographer Tony Blazejack's Aloha Airlines flight from Kahului had just landed and he was bending down to get his bag when he heard security officers behind him yelling at someone to stop.
"I look up," Blazejack said, "and I see this car coming through the terminal. It's not ripping through there," but driving slowly.
He said the driver stopped just before getting to the end of Aloha Airlines' baggage claim, got out of his car and started talking to airport security officers.
"Everyone wasn't really sure what was going on," Blazejack said, adding that the suspect appeared to be under stress.
Shortly after the driver got out of the car, deputy sheriffs arrived. Ishikawa said that at some point the man made a threatening move toward a security officer and apparently tried to flee.
That was when at least six deputy sheriffs and security officers tackled the man and handcuffed him, Blazejack said.
At about 6 p.m. the suspect's Neon was pushed out of the terminal and then taken to an airport storage facility. On its windshield there was a large circle of cracked glass. There appeared to be other damage to the vehicle, but it is unclear whether it was related to the incident.
The only significant damage to the baggage claim area was to the electronic doors. Ishikawa did not have an estimate for how much the doors would cost to replace.
The suspect, who gave officials multiple home addresses, including one in Waipahu and a second in Waikele, was undergoing a medical evaluation last night.
Additional security guards were posted in front of the interisland baggage claim areas last night as a short-term measure until the barriers are put in place, Ishikawa said.
There is a concern, though, that too many security measures would make the terminals inaccessible to wheelchairs and not user-friendly. "While we're trying to keep the airports safe, you don't want to turn it into a prison," he added. "It's kind of a balance."
This is the second time someone has driven into an airport terminal in the islands.
In February 2004, 54-year-old Paul Blatchley tried to kill himself by setting his sport utility vehicle on fire after driving into a Kahului Airport terminal. He was uninjured, but outgoing air service was shut down for more than nine hours.
Blatchley pleaded guilty to disrupting the airport's operations and was sentenced in June to 30 months in federal prison and ordered to pay $5,454 in restitution.
In response to that incident, Ishikawa said, planters were placed in the front of Kahului Airport's ground-level terminal.