'Accidental' gun discharge causes panic at busy US airport

By: AFP      Published: 09:38 AM, 21 Nov, 2021
'Accidental' gun discharge causes panic at busy US airport
Scenes from the Atlanta Airport.

A gun that was accidentally discharged after being discovered at an X-Ray checkpoint in Atlanta's busy international airport sent dozens of passengers scurrying for cover and briefly resulted in the facility's closure Saturday just days before the Thanksgiving holiday.

The episode, which highlights the highly politicized topic of gun prevalence in American society, resulted in three non-life-threatening injuries, according to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). 

It said the incident occurred after a "prohibited item" was identified inside a passenger's baggage by an X-Ray machine at a checkpoint.

As a Transportation Security Officer opened the compartment containing the gun, "the passenger lunged into the bag and grabbed a firearm, at which point it discharged."

"The passenger then fled the area, running out of the airport exit," the TSA said, adding that the officer had told the passenger not to touch the property.  

TSA did not provide details on how the injuries were sustained.

A spokesman for the airport said that authorities know who the individual is and that information is still forthcoming.

Shortly after the incident the airport emphasized on Twitter that there was "not an active shooter," adding that "there was an accidental discharge at the Airport. There is no danger to passengers or employees. An investigation is ongoing."

The loud noise sent many people ducking and running, knocking over suitcases and stanchions as they scrambled to escape, film aired by CNN showed. 

People could be heard shouting "Get down! Get down!" while others slid across the floor. Some people took shelter in airport restaurants, while others even ran onto the tarmac.

The discharge caused continuing confusion and chaos.

One CNN reporter, whose plane was just arriving, said she heard the pilot announce an "active shooter" while telling passengers they would not yet be allowed to deplane. 

The incident occurred around 1:30 pm (1830 GMT). Atlanta Police gave the all-clear at 3:20 pm and passengers were rescreened.

Since the beginning of the year, the TSA has detected more than 450 firearms at checkpoints in the Atlanta airport alone.

A controversial Georgia law passed in 2014 allows people to carry permitted guns into airports although not past screening checkpoints, as well as into bars, schools and churches.

It is illegal, under federal law, to carry a weapon into a TSA screening area.

"Firearms, particularly loaded firearms, introduce an unnecessary risk at checkpoints," the TSA said in its statement.

Passengers may travel with firearms in checked bags when they are unloaded, locked and stored inside a hard-sided case. The weapon must additionally be declared. 

The incident Saturday came on one of the busiest travel weekends of the year.