The Transportation Security Administration said in a statement Sunday that officers working at the checkpoint missed one of the box cutters later discovered in a bag and violated protocol by returning the blades of another box cutter to the passenger after they removed it .
The TSA said in a statement that the man’s two backpacks passed through one of the agency’s advanced CT scanners. These devices can create a 3D image of a bag’s contents, but the agent operating the bag has not fully utilized this functionality, the agency said.
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One of the bags was marked for a physical search and officers discovered a box cutter. The “visible sheets” were removed, but then returned to the passenger, which contradicts “standard operating procedure,” according to the TSA. Box cutters must be disposed of at the checkpoint or placed in checked baggage, where they must be “encased or tightly packed,” the agency said.
“The backpack containing the other box cutter and the rest of the traveler’s belongings was screened for explosives, but the box cutter was not discovered,” the TSA said. The agency said affected employees “have been placed in a training status for recovery from CT image review and physical search procedures.” The agency plans to inform officers across the country about the incident and provide statewide refresher training for Kentucky employees on how to use the CT scanners.
Passengers on the flight told local news outlets that the man threatened to stab other airmen with one of the box cutters. A Navy veteran told ABC News that he and an Army veteran, as well as a former law enforcement officer, attempted to de-escalate the passenger, and the former officer later tackled the man around the time police arrived.
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Atlanta police and FBI agents arrested the man, and officials later found the second box cutter in his carry-on, according to the TSA. It was unclear if the box cutter he flashed was fitted with a blade.
All passengers disembarked and were given hotels in Atlanta for the night before a new flight took them to Tampa Saturday morning, De La Cruz said. An Atlanta airport spokesperson referred questions about the incident to Frontier and the Atlanta Police Department, who did not respond to questions Monday.
The disruptive passenger, whose identity is not known, will appear in court for the first time on Monday, a spokesman for the Atlanta FBI office said. The U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia did not respond to a request for comment Monday.