What Caused LAX To Shut Down Last Night? The Airport Authority Explains

Filed Under: Security/TSA

Last night I wrote about how LAX was shut down after reports of an active shooter surfaced. Passengers were evacuated, dozens of flights were diverted, and hundreds of flights were delayed.

The situation seemed to defuse pretty quickly, as the story changed from there being an active shooter to there being a miscommunication/false alarm.

What we do know is that there was a man in a Zorro costume with a plastic sword being detained by half a dozen police officers at gunpoint. On one hand I assumed that wasn’t the cause of the incident. On the other hand it would be very coincidental if this just happened to be at the same time that something else big was happening at the airport.

Well, this morning there’s a bit more clarity as to what happened last night, as Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA) has issued a statement within the past hour about last night’s incident. Here’s their explanation of what happened:

On August 28, 2016, at approximately 8:40 pm, Los Angeles Airport Police officers immediately responded to Terminal 7 Lower/Arrivals Level public area regarding reports of a man dressed in black with a sword, wearing a mask. Believing the subject was armed with a sword, several Airport Police officers approached him with weapons drawn out of an abundance of caution.  The man was detained, questioned and released.  Airport Police determined the sword was plastic.

Immediately following, Airport Police began receiving reports of an active shooter in Terminal 8.  Word spread quickly through the terminals by word-of-mouth, social media, and additional calls were made to Airport Police about an active shooter in other terminals, with some reporting having heard gunshots.  Many passengers and employees evacuated onto the airfield and into the Central Terminal Area roadways.  An investigation, that included review of closed-circuit television footage, revealed that no shots were fired.  Airport Police continues to investigate what caused the incident.

Terminals 1, 4, 6, 7 and 8 were impacted by passengers evacuating or going through federal security screening checkpoints without proper screening.  Airport Police temporarily closed both Upper/Departures and Lower/Arrivals level roadways.  Passengers who passed through emergency exits onto the airfield were gathered and either bussed or directed to a safe location.  LAX Airport Operations requested a ground stop on the south runway complex shortly after 9 p.m. due to passengers, who self-evacuated from the terminals, running onto the restricted airfield.  The ground stop was lifted by 9:30 p.m.  Airport Police officers methodically cleared all impacted terminals with explosive-detection K-9 units before passengers and employees were allowed to enter the terminals to be rescreened.  The Central Terminal Area roadways were reopened at approximately 10:30 p.m.

Okay, so the guy in the Zorro costume was approached at Terminal 7, and then moments later there were reports of a shooter at the next terminal over. Something tells me this may have been a miscommunication, much like when there were reports of an Emirati man “pledging his allegiance to ISIS” in the lobby of a Fairfield Inn in Ohio.

So, just how much were operations impacted?

During the 30-minute ground stop, 27 arriving flights diverted to other airports, 12 of which diverted to Ontario International Airport.  By early Monday morning, passengers from only one diverted flight had yet to arrive at LAX.  Airlines reported that the total number of delayed arriving and departure flights is estimated at approximately 281 (120 arrivals and 161 departures).  Airlines reported two cancelled flights.

I certainly can’t blame the authorities for being extremely cautious. At the same time, even the smallest thing can have a massive impact on operations.

I do wonder about the guy in the Zorro costume with a plastic sword. Not that he violated any laws by doing so (that I know of, at least), but was he showing up at the airport like that just to be a jerk and create a scene, or…?

It’s a crazy world we live in, eh?

  1. While I understand the hyper-vigilance these days, whether warranted or as a consequence of world events and the US’ general love of hysteria, there exists technology that can detect gunshots, knows the difference between a gunshot and a car backfire, and can determine the direction from which they came. If an active shooter is really such a threat that airports are shut down regularly as a result of word-of-mouth and social media “reporting”, why are we not investing in this technology?

    I’d like to see how much revenue was lost/wasted for diverting flights based on the public – which is admittedly incredibly stupid in large groups – spreading false information. And how that compares to purchase/installation costs for a technology that’s been around for a while now.

  2. The Zorro guy very may well’ve been en-route to Dragon Con and decided to dress up to start the festivities early. Not too different from people donning beachwear and island-themed clothes en-route to Hawaii for vacation.

  3. All’s is well that ends well I guess….

    I am curious as to what the deal with dressing with as Zorro is…proposing to his girlfriend/boyfriend?
    Doing the Hollywood Blv freak thing and charging tourists for pictures?

  4. I just read that the Zorro guy was an actor leaving a performance that ran late and rushing to catch a flight in costume.


  5. There is a good article in the New Yorker this week written by a guy in JFK a couple of weeks ago. During that last false shooter alert. This stuff is scary. Crowd panic. That’s what terrorism is. Real or imagined.

  6. @Adam, there was a great piece about the gunshot hearing system on NPR recently. Its not quite as good as it’s cracked up to be.

  7. @Nick – That doesn’t sound remotely plausible. Why would he bring the prop sword with him and not remove his mask? (Also, what production other than a high school play would use a plastic sword?)

  8. @Adam – “why are we not investing in this technology?”

    Probably because it costs too much $$, and no one wants to pay for it.

  9. How has no one on the comment board even blinked at the statement from the airport that passengers were passing the security checkpoints without being checked? No wonder they had to empty the terminals, they had to sweep each one at that point. Regardless of mass hysteria TSA should have kept the checkpoints secure until credible evacuation protocols had been followed. But to have an incomplete set of information and to let the security of the terminal be compromised is inexcusable.

  10. I say if someone’s intention was to cause chaos and distraction, mission accomplished. Is no need for gunshots. ??????????

  11. Who is the real terrorist? Zorro or the news media? The media has the people intentionally wound-up, which is causing people to over-react.

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