WESTCHESTER COUNTY, N.Y. – A liquid substance detected by TSA caused Westchester County Airport to be evacuated Sunday at 5:40 p.m. and reopened nearly two hours after an investigation deemed the substance to be non-threatening, according to police. Airport officials said the substance, which tested positive for a potential explosive material when it passed through the checked baggage screening machine, caused roughly 1,000 travelers to be affected.
Kieran O’Leary, spokesperson for the Westchester County Police, said the decision to evacuate the terminal was not made lightly and there were a number of factors that went into the decision.
The TSA became concerned after noticing a “cleaning solvent of some type,” according to airport manager Peter Scherrer, when it passed through the checked baggage security machine at 5:32 p.m. He said something about the package seemed “truly troubling” to the Westchester County bomb sniffing dog on scene and security was unable to locate the passenger who owned the bag.
Scherrer said it was then that security evacuated the terminal of all travelers, which took until 5:56 p.m., and they were able to find the package’s owner, who was scheduled on a flight to Atlanta, Ga. The Westchester County Bomb Squad arrived to the airport at 6:20 p.m. to check the package and determined the device was not a threat 23 minutes later, he said.
“It wouldn’t be something that you couldn’t carry on the airplane,” Scherrer said of the material in the package. “That’s what TSA also confirmed – you would be allowed to take it on there, but the way it was made up, it looked like a bomb.”
At 6:53 p.m., the terminal was reopened and traffic resumed by 7:19 p.m., Scherrer said. Around 9 p.m., the airport was “clearing up our flight delays.”
With nearly 350 people evacuated, two diversions and 13 flights stranded at the terminal, Scherrer said roughly 1,000 people were “inconvenienced” Sunday.
“Having to sit on their flight and probably some people outbound got into their destinations later – some people might have missed their connections,” he said.
However, according to Scherrer and O’Leary, people were “orderly and cooperative” throughout the entire process.
“A lot of people mentioned to us that even though they were inconvenienced, they understand the need to take precautions when it comes to security matters,” O’Leary said. “Most people told our officers that they would much rather be safe and inconvenienced than anything else.”
Due to the ongoing investigation on the matter, O’Leary did not disclose what substance was found in the package. He said the TSA and bomb sniffing dog were not “inaccurate” on their tests.
“There’s a material involved that could be part of an explosive,” he said. “In this particular case, it wasn’t. So, I don’t want to leave the impression that TSA’s field test was inaccurate or the dog’s hit was inaccurate. They’re both sensitive to all kinds of different materials – that material was present, but just not in a manner that it was any kind of hazard to the public.”