Texas hunter angry over opened caribou parcels

Posted: Sunday, June 01, 2003

ANCHORAGE (AP) Caribou hunter David Williams is angry about what airport security did to a bounty of meat he took home from an Alaska adventure.

When the Houston, Texas, man arrived home in March he was in for a nasty surprise. When Williams cut open the strapping tape holding shut the first of two boxes full of carefully handled, carefully packaged caribou roasts, steaks and burger, he found a mess inside and a preprinted form informing him his airline baggage had been ''inspected.''

The inspection involved slicing open 45 packages of caribou double-wrapped in freezer paper and marked ''roast,'' ''backstrap'' and ''caribou hamburger.''

''This baggage inspection was not done in my presence,'' he said. ''Therefore I don't know if the meat was stacked on the floor during the 'prohibited item search.'

He also wants to know if it was swabbed by chemicals for explosive detection, or did any bomb-sniffing dogs lick it. He wonders if inspectors had on new, previously unused rubber latex gloves while handling the meat.

''The value of this caribou meat is about $28 per pound, and we are afraid to eat it. Would you eat it?'' he asks.

Williams said appeals to the airlines that hauled the meat brought no response.

U.S. Transportation Security Administration Alaska director Ken Jarman on Friday said he had only recently heard about what happened and begun investigating. He said he's almost as shocked as Williams at what happened.

''I'm a hunter and fisherman, too,'' Jarman said.

Cutting open packaged game meat or fish is against both TSA policy and procedure, he said.

Baggage inspectors on the X-ray line in Anchorage aren't even allowed to slice packages open if the alarm goes off on a bag there, he said. And in Kenai, where there is no X-ray, baggage checkers hand-inspecting bags are supposed to pass fish and game meat not cut it up.

''I feel badly about this,'' Jarman said. ''It is under investigation. We are looking into it.''

He also offered assurances to the many anglers now beginning to ship fish south from Alaska that they shouldn't have to worry about the sort of bad experience endured by Williams.

Williams suspects the meat-slashing took place at the Kenai airport, where he first boarded a commercial flight upon returning from a caribou hunt in the Iliamna area. He was participating in a special winter hunt the state Board of Game established several years ago to try to trim the growing Mulchatna caribou herd before it overtaxes its range.

Williams said he was glad to have the opportunity.

Going to Alaska to hunt and fish, he said, ''is my favorite thing to do. I don't bowl. I don't play golf. We usually go up in June and again in July. I went up early to get a caribou.''

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