Edinburgh Airport: Explosives sparked scare

Passengers evacuated to the runway area. Picture: @WaleJamie
Passengers evacuated to the runway area. Picture: @WaleJamie
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THE bomb scare which brought Edinburgh Airport to a standstill was sparked by traces of high explosives on a passenger’s hand luggage during a routine security scan.

The mass evacuation plan was put into place at 1.50pm yesterday as robots were brought in to examine the suspect piece of hand luggage.

Passengers are being kept outside the airport. Picture: @pnearn

Passengers are being kept outside the airport. Picture: @pnearn

Hundreds of passengers were immediately evacuated from the terminal building, which was cordoned off as a precaution.

Thousands of others were affected by the scare. A total of 28 departures and arrivals were cancelled and six planes packed with passengers were kept in isolation for three hours on the tarmac.

Police Scotland later confirmed there had been no risk to the public.

A spokesman said: “This was a proportionate response to let staff on the ground establish what had happened.

Edinburgh Airport has been evacuated. Picture:  Mohammad alsharef

Edinburgh Airport has been evacuated. Picture: Mohammad alsharef

Highest priority

“Following the Glasgow Airport attack, I think it’s fair to say passenger safety and security is, and always will have, the highest priority.

“If, at any time, people are concerned we’re overreacting, they should dwell on what the consequences could be were we to call a security scare the wrong way and allow someone to get the better of us.”

The airport was reopened after 5pm, but airport bosses warned that there was still a possibility of delays today and advised passengers to check departure times before arriving.

Frustrated passengers – who have been praised for their “Dunkirk spirit” – struggled to keep warm when trapped outside. Emma Porteous, 26, who was flying to London Gatwick, was told by the driver of an Airlink bus she would not be able to board her flight.

She said: “I’m not too worried about the flight, but I’m worried I’m not going to make my connecting train at the end to get back to Portsmouth.

“The airport staff have been really good.

“They have been looking after people and bussing passengers to the hotel to keep warm.”

Sine McNeil, 51, from Inveraray, was waiting on a flight to Malta where she was going to spend a week with her daughter.

She said: “I live too far away to go back tonight. Apparently the last time this happened they had to send sniffer dogs from Belfast.

“One of the airport staff said we would be taken to the Royal Highland Centre in Ingliston to get looked after there.

“My daughter will be waiting for me at Malta airport. She bought me the flights for Christmas.

“It’s unfortunate, but it’s just one of those things.

“I hope my flight isn’t cancelled but if it happens, it happens.”

Emergency Vehicles

A continuous fire alarm sounded as emergency services, including a bomb disposal unit, arrived at the scene.

Mhairi Wale, 27, from Harthill, was on her way home from Alicante with her partner, Jamie, but the couple had to remain at the airport.

She said: “There hasn’t been much information on what’s been happening or how long we are going to be stuck here for.

“Most people seem to be finding out what is happening through social media – all you can hear is the fire alarm going off. There’s emergency vehicles all over the place.”

The airport reopened just after 5pm, when it was announced that the package did not pose a threat.

Chief Inspector David Campbell, from Police Scotland’s border policing command, said: “As part of a routine bag search at the airport, suspicions were raised about the contents of one item of hand luggage and the decision was taken to evacuate the airport while the appropriate inquiries could be carried out.

“We are now satisfied there isn’t, nor was there ever, any risk to the public and the airport will now begin to reopen.

“We would like to thank the public for their patience and co-operation during the emergency service response.”

Significant delays

No flights left the airport until after 8pm last night, with passengers again warned to expect “significant delays and cancellations”.

Among the flights that were cancelled were those to Birmingham, Paris and Heathrow.

One passenger, who did not want to be named, was waiting for information on his flight to Southampton.

He said: “My flight has completely disappeared from the board.

“No-one has even made an announcement about what’s happening. It’s a mess.”

It is understood that the first flight to arrive after the airport began reopening was the FR6696 flight from Malta, which landed ten minutes earlier than scheduled, touching down at 6.05pm.

Gordon Dewar, chief executive of Edinburgh Airport, said: “We were alerted to an issue in terms of security which

unfortunately meant we had to evacuate the terminal building.

“There has been a very extensive investigation by authorities, and they have now concluded there is no threat. It has taken them time to do that, as they had to make sure everything is safe. We know this causes huge disruption and upset to people.

“We have done our best to mitigate that and make people as comfortable as possible but it’s a cold, wet day in Edinburgh, there’s limited facilities when the terminal is shut.

“All we can do is keep people informed.”

‘We’re just glad to be going home now’

Scott Allan, 34, Cowdenbeath: “My flight has been delayed but I’m here with work so I’m not crying about it. I was supposed to be flying to Hamburg via Amsterdam but it’s not going to be happening tonight. There’s nothing can be done in a situation like this. When the place was evacuated they sent me to the multi-storey car park. Then we were taken up to the Hilton. They had teas and coffees for the older people.”

Leigh Beaton, 41, civil servant, Blackford, and her daughter, Beth, four: “We’re getting picked up – my husband has been waiting on us arriving for around three hours now. We came in on a flight from Milan and we weren’t allowed off the plane. It was very frustrating to be honest, but everybody stuck there was in good spirits and we just made the best of it. We’re all just glad to be going home now.”

Emma Baldock, 26, a teacher from Adelaide: “We had to wait in the car park. Apparently our flight to Belfast is leaving tonight. Half of us have been able to check in already and half are still trying. The first couple of hours the airport staff seemed a bit disorganised but then they got a handle on things and were able to give us more details. We’re glad to be getting out of the airport tonight.”

Analysis

By Ben Vogel -Editor, Jane’s Airport Review.

Obvious items such as weapons, or a bag with wires sticking out of it, could cause an alarm. But it’s not just the item itself that may have triggered the alert – perhaps it was the behaviour of an individual.

Having looked into the official statements from this incident, it seems that standard operating procedures were implemented. If there is any cause to believe that a threat item has been detected in the security area, these are the kind of steps that security officials are expected to take.

Airports face a range of security risks, particularly as aviation is such a high-value target for terrorist groups. Even those who fail to detonate bombs are able to cause millions of pounds’ worth of disruption.

How security scanners work

THE hi-tech scanners employed at Edinburgh Airport use ultra-sensitive waves to detect concealed threats, including explosives, guns and contraband.

Security staff are trained to identify objects that pose a potential risk to passenger and aircraft safety.

Swabs may also be taken of hand luggage to identify traces of explosives or drugs.

They can also detect organic substances – a primary ingredient in most explosives.

Timeline

1.50pm: Security staff at the airport identify a “suspicious bag” and raise the alarm. Passengers are immediately evacuated from the terminal building and a 100m cordon is established around the area.

2.05pm: Passengers waiting to travel are moved to the multi-story car park, while passengers who had been through security are kept in departure lounge.

2.51pm: Passengers from departure lounge evacuated airside of the terminal. Due to the cold weather staff hand out blankets and silver foil wrappers to keep people warm. Police, fire and ambulance staff all at the scene.

2.54pm: Explosives experts arrive to begin a detailed examination of the suspect package, initially using a robotic device.

3.03pm: Police confirm roads into Edinburgh Airport now closed to all traffic and urge people not to travel to the area.

3.30pm: With crowds building up outside, hundreds of passengers are sent to the Hilton Airport hotel where staff open up meeting rooms and provide food and drink. Others are given shelter in the on-site car rental offices.

3.32pm: Airside passengers are moved back into the terminal building as it starts to rain.

3.40pm: Reports begin to circulate that a bomb has been found in security and that a passenger has been detained by police. Passengers stuck on a plane on the runway say staff tell them the airport has been “shut down”.

3.48pm: Airport is closed completely with all inbound flights diverted and passengers told not to come to the terminal.

4.02pm: Airside passengers are finally allowed to leave the airport, though with no cars or buses being allowed in to pick them up and many begin walking up the road. Police again urge people not to travel to the airport as it is reported it could be three hours before it reopens.

4.30: Crowds of waiting passengers moved to the Royal Highland Centre at Ingliston under a long-standing agreement with the airport, where staff provide refreshments for around 200 people.

4.42pm: It emerges that the passenger reportedly detained by security had “traces of explosives” on his hands. Reports also begin to circulate that an improvised explosive device had been found in his bag.

4.55pm: Ryanair announce they have suspended all flights to and from Edinburgh Airport.

5.05pm: Edinburgh Airport chief executive Gordon Dewar confirms that no bomb has been discovered during the incident and that the airport would then begin to reopen.

5.46pm: Passengers get back to the terminal – to discover flights have been delayed and cancelled as airport bosses struggle to get services back on schedule.

How the drama was unfolding on Twitter

Gerard Madill: “Stuck @ Edinburgh Airport, which has been totally evacuated, due to an ‘ongoing incident’. Seems serious – won’t be flying soon...”

Melanie Rogers: “My poor wee granny and grandad have been stuck on a plane at Edinburgh airport for 4 hours.”

Kevin Doyle: “Suspicious package found at Edinburgh airport... where’s smeato when ye need him lol”

Eduaro Prato: “Still in the plane... 2 hours wait on the ground. But EasyJet are going a great job to keep us entertained. Thumbs up! #Edinburgh #airport”

Tony Caw: “Passengers “unhappy” at Edinburgh airport delay today. Sure they’d have been more unhappy if their heids had been blown off!”

Rob Flett: “#edinburgh airport will reopen within the hour. ‘Suspect package’ made safe. One v red faced passenger, and some over excited journalists!”

PNearn: “Have to say the staff both from @EDI_Airport and the @HiltonEdinAirpt were great today under that stress. Big thanks to you all.”

Wee Nat: “Ok so the question on everybody’s lips... “What was in the package?””

‘Dunkirk spirit’ gets passengers through a difficult situation

As weary and frustrated travellers were left outside in the cold, people rallied round to make sure others were as comfortable as possible.

Dozens of passengers were taken by bus to the Hilton Airport hotel, where they were given warming cups of tea and coffee.

Crowds seeking shelter from the rain – many wearing blankets and foil wraps handed to them by airport staff – huddled into the foyer of the airport’s multi-storey car park.

Would-be holidaymakers who feared losing out on their well deserved breaks shared jokes with one another to pass the time.

John Jones, 45, a greenkeeper who trained at

Gleneagles, was making his way back to his home in Christchurch, New Zealand, through Dubai – and needed to find accommodation for the night.

“It’s just one of those things – we can’t do anything about it. We knew there were going to be big queues, but it can’t be helped when it comes to safety.

“We were stuck in the multi-storey car park for over an hour and then we were taken up to the Hilton. Now we’re just waiting on the airline sorting out somewhere for us to stay.”

With information thin on the ground the massed, frozen ranks took to Twitter to keep abreast of all the latest developments. Those who found their phone batteries depleted were quickly given handsets so they could call loved ones to say they were safe and well.

For many, the warmest place to be was on board one of the half-a-dozen jets on the landing apron told they were not allowed to disembark.

Sally Foster, 50, a university lecturer from Morningside, was one of dozens of passengers on a flight from Milan who had to stay on board for around three hours.

She said: “Everybody on the plane was fantastic. EasyJet were brilliant – especially the pilot. He kept everybody up to date. In fact, he even let us have a look around the cockpit.”

But other passengers were not pleased with the way the drama was handled. One passenger, who was travelling to Birmingham on business, was waiting at the baggage reclaim after she was told the flight had been cancelled.

“It’s been a complete shambles,” she said. “Staff were just standing about. We had just got through security and we were taken to the other side of the airport at around 1.50pm.

“There was absolutely no information – nobody knew anything. We were just stood about for three hours.

“People only managed to figure out what was going on because they looked at the news websites on their phones.

“All we wanted was to be kept updated. I wasn’t worried about the security scare because the staff didn’t look bothered at all.”

Around 200 of those evacuated were transported by bus to the nearby Royal Highland Centre, in keeping with a long-standing arrangement between the two organisations should an evacuation be necessary.

Stephen Hutt, chief executive of the Royal Highland and Agricultural Society, praised the “Dunkirk spirit” of passengers. He said that everyone made “the best of a difficult situation”.