Passenger's rifle discharges while being checked in

Posted: Wednesday, October 25, 2000

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- A passenger's rifle accidentally discharged over the weekend while being checked in behind the Alaska Airlines baggage counter at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport.

No one was injured, but the incident highlighted what federal officials say is a growing problem with firearms in checked baggage.

The incident occurred about 6 a.m. Sunday, while ticket agents were checking a passenger's rifle, said Jack Walsh, with Alaska Airlines in Seattle.

''The passenger declared the weapon properly, filled out our form and said it was unloaded,'' Walsh told the Anchorage Daily News. ''But when it was passing through the CTX (metal scanner), the ticket agents noticed there were loose shells in the case with the rifle. That's a violation of regulations.''

The baggage scanner is behind the ticket counter, out of sight of passengers in the terminal.

Ticket agents asked the passenger to come back to the scanner area and remove the loose cartridges, Walsh said. The rifle, a .338-caliber Winchester Magnum, went off while its owner was opening the case, he said.

The bullet ripped through the metal scanner's monitor, through a wall in the supervisor's office and ricocheted off a wall, ending up in a paper organizer, Walsh said.

''Obviously, the passenger was wrong when he said the weapon was unloaded,'' Walsh said.

Airport security police took the weapon. But the passenger was allowed to board the plane for his trip to Montana, authorities said.

The name of the passenger was not released.

FBI agent Eric Gonzalez says his office will forward its investigation to the U.S. attorney, who will decide whether to bring criminal charges.

The federal law that forbids checking a loaded firearm as baggage carries a maximum penalty of a $250,000 fine and 10 years in prison.

Sunday's incident was the worst in what FAA officials call a growing problem at Alaska's largest airport.

Ticket agents since July have detected 139 firearms in checked baggage that passengers failed to tell them about, authorities said.

In April, a loaded pistol in the baggage hold of an Alaska Airlines jet out of Portland International Airport accidentally discharged before takeoff. The bullet tore through the hold and into a diaper bag under a passenger's seat.

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