Tuesday, December 25, 2001

Bomb-sniffing dog Zombia and handler Greg Casler patrolled the departures area at Honolulu Airport yesterday as part of a FAA-mandated bomb detection program. The two have been a team for four years.

Airport’s dog patrols
rate among
nation’s best

Bomb-sniffing canines do
not shun sneakers

By Nelson Daranciang

It is not impossible but unlikely that a terrorist can carry explosives aboard a commercial airplane at the Honolulu Airport, airport security officers maintained yesterday.

"We have the most advanced explosive detection technology in the country," said Joe Guyton, security coordinator for the Airlines Committee of Hawaii, an airport umbrella organization.

But he said people are very inventive and security measures are often designed in response to a security breach. The Federal Aviation Administration stepped up security measures at Honolulu and other airports in response to the explosives scare on a U.S.-bound international flight over the weekend.

During an American Airlines flight from Paris to Miami on Saturday, two flight attendants and at least a half-dozen passengers grabbed a man and used belts to strap him into his seat after he allegedly tried to touch a lit match to a fuse protruding from one of his shoes. The Boeing 767 airliner, carrying 183 passengers and 14 crew members, was escorted to Boston by two fighter jets. The shoe contained an explosive material.

There are 16 explosives detection systems (EDS) to scan baggage at Honolulu Airport, more than at any other airport in the country, said Guyton.

In addition, there is one handheld explosive trace detector (ETD) for each EDS and at all the checkpoints.

And some of the country's top bomb-sniffing dogs patrol the passenger terminal. They could have easily detected the plastic explosives hidden in the man's sneakers, said Kevin Metcalf, unit commander of the FAA's Explosives Detection Canine Team.

The six dogs assigned to Honolulu Airport consistently place in the top 5 percent in canine explosives detection competitions, he said.

Metcalf is an employee of Wackenhut, the only private company contracted by the FAA to run its Explosives Detection Canine Team Program at Honolulu and other airports. Law enforcement and other government agencies run the FAA program at the rest of the country's airports.

X-ray machines and metal detectors at the checkpoints are also part of the security measures at the airport.

Some people who flew from Honolulu yesterday said they are pleased with the level of security at U.S. airports and were not discouraged from flying by what happened.

"I'm not afraid," said Vina Bengston of Walnut Creek, Calif., who returned to California yesterday after attending a Bahai conference in Honolulu. "I have a very positive attitude. People die in car accidents."

Bruce Stasik of Fremont, Calif., said: "If it's my time to go, it's my time to go. It doesn't bother me in the least."

"You can die in your bathtub," said Kailua resident Joseph Luebberke, on his way to visit family in San Francisco. "I think they're doing the best with what they have."

Others were not so happy.

"I think we've gone overboard," said Linda Mandel, who was returning to Los Angeles after attending her son's University of Hawaii graduation ceremony.

The FAA would not say what measures it ordered, but Guyton said more people will be asked to take off their shoes to have them scanned.

"We've always asked some people to do that. But we received a more direct order to do it more stringently," said Guyton.

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