Abandoned cooler triggered evacuation at Austin airport baggage claim

People evacuated from ABIA due to a suspicious package on July 5, 2017. (KXAN/Chris Davis)
People evacuated from ABIA due to a suspicious package on July 5, 2017. (KXAN/Chris Davis)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin police say operations at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport are back to normal after authorities evacuated the baggage claim area — basically the entire first floor — due to reports of a suspicious package Wednesday morning.

Austin police got a call about the package around 10:40 a.m.; it is not clear if the package was found inside the airport or outside in the passenger pick-up area. A spokesman for ABIA said it took police a while to get the K9 team they wanted to start searching the area.

When the dog alerted them to potential danger, they began to evacuate the floor just before noon. Due to the layout of the airport and the size of the package, the spokesman said, it was determined the upper floors were not at risk and were not evacuated.

Police gave the all-clear and allowed people back inside just before 1 p.m. The suspicious item turned out to be an empty, abandoned cooler.

“None of us knew what was going on,” Misty Smith said. The airline didn’t lose her bags, she just wasn’t allowed to go get them. “It was not a good feeling, no. It was a little frightening.”

Smith flew back home from a short vacation in Fort Myers, Fla., to a pickup area swarmed by firefighters, EMS, police, and the bomb squad. Crowds of people told to leave the first floor gathered under the parking deck across the pickup lanes.

“I did see the dogs sniffing around downstairs,” Smith said of her viewpoint from the next floor up, “and just people walking around, checking things out.”

“They set perimeters back every ten minutes,” William Glover, another passenger stuck inside, said. “So next thing you know we were in another terminal.”

Glover was flying back from Newark, N.J., with his 6-month-old daughter Jade. The police activity and the suspicious bag made him nervous, he said.

After about an hour wait as police finished up their search, both Glover and Smith were able to get their bags and catch their rides — but not before Smith had to call off from work.

“I mean, it’s a good excuse,” she said. “Can’t get my bags, can’t leave.”

The ABIA spokesman said flights took off and landed normally during the investigation and it didn’t result in serious delays. He couldn’t say how many people were affected by the baggage claim shut down.

Passengers should check their flight status before heading to the airport, he said.

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