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Security breach at John Wayne Airport delays flights, strands passengers on tarmac; suspect in custody

Passengers at John Wayne Airport were evacuated from the terminals Friday evening after an unidentified man illegally breached a secure part of the airport, delaying flights and stranding passengers on the tarmac. The man, who eluded capture for hours, was eventually located in the ceiling near a ticketing area and taken into custody.

The trouble began to unfold at about 5:30 p.m., when a man was spotted in the airfield in a secure area that only airport employees are allowed to access, and made contact with an airport employee. He then took control of an airport vehicle and drove it into the airfield outside Terminal C, officials said.

He stopped near a gate and tried to access a secure area of the terminal, at which point an airport employee lost sight of the man and notified emergency personnel, authorities said.

The Orange County Sheriff’s Department located the man in the ceiling near the ticketing area, where passengers had previously been evacuated to. He was taken into custody without further incident.

He was expected to be booked into Orange County Jail. No further information about the man was provided.

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At 8:02 p.m. the airport was cleared and re-opened, allowing passengers to de-board or head out, OCSD spokeswoman Carrie Braun said.

Some flights were expected to be delayed or canceled, and passengers were told to check with their airlines, JWA spokeswoman AnnaSophia Servin said.

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During the closure, a sheriff’s helicopter flew low above the airport, circling the tarmac. Arriving commercial planes formed a line along the runway. Departing planes also sat idle at terminal gates and along the runway. Television broadcasts showed clusters of travelers waiting outside terminals with their luggage.

Though the Sheriff’s Department declined to confirm what prompted the search, some passengers received information from flight officials about the unfolding situation.

The Orange County Sheriff’s Department responded to the security breach at John Wayne Airport. (Photo by Devin McClellan)

Security pushed passengers who already had been through screening back to the ticketing area, where they would have to go through security again before being allowed to re-enter the terminals, according to some passengers waiting inside planes.

Charles Chronicle of Newport Beach, who waited inside an American Airlines plane bound for Phoenix, said the plane’s captain relayed information from the air traffic controllers, notifying passengers that the terminal was evacuated and sheriff’s deputies were walking throughout the terminal.

The captain announced deputies were searching for an individual who had hopped the airport fence, stole a truck and crashed through one of the gates, Chronicle said as his plane was parked at a terminal gate. After waiting for more than an hour and a half, Chronicles flight was cleared for takeoff around 7:45 p.m.

Other passengers who weathered delays were largely kept in the dark about the security breach.

Elizabeth Robins of Washington D.C., who arrived on a connecting Southwest Airlines flight from Las Vegas, said her plane was stuck on the tarmac after landing at 6:30 p.m., the sheriff’s copter circling above them. Flight attendants explained travelers in the terminal had to be re-screened before they could park the plane and enter the airport.

Robins, who was visiting family in Orange County for a funeral, said she waited at least two hours before deplaning.

“Glad everyone is safe, and for how Southwest flight attendants kept us entertained while we waited,” she said. “Airplane staff handled the event well and efficiently.”

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Source: Orange County Register

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