Friday, January 16, 2009

Grenade on a Plane: Then and Now

From AP and Yahoo News:

Authorities detained Johnny Knoxville on Thursday for allegedly bringing an inert grenade into Los Angeles International Airport. After security screeners spotted the grenade in the "Jackass" star's carry-on luggage, a bomb squad determined it lacked a firing pin or explosive. Police say Knoxville was later released and allowed to board an American Airlines flight to Miami.

This story sounds so familiar....

It was August 1985, and I'd just finished jump school at Fort Benning. A classmate and I rented a taxi and off we went to the Atlanta airport. In a taxi. The whole way.

But first we had to stop at Valhalla itself, Ranger Joe's surplus store.

We probably spent a half an hour in there. There were so many "toys" in there, so much to look at. One that caught my friend's eye was a bin of dummy hand grenades. A pineapple, a pin, and a handle--it's just that the pineapple was hollow, no explosive. "My younger brother would love these," he said. He bought two. He tossed them into his bag and on we went to the airport, quite a drive away.

We checked in and, since both of our flights were a couple hours distant, went and had a nice lunch (we cadets must have had a lot of money in those days). Well over an hour had passed since our arrival at the airport, and then it was time to go to our gate. We each put our carry-ons on the metal detector belt and started to go through. I don't know what triggered John's memory then, but simultaneously with his words I understood what was going on: "You know, we're all going to laugh about this in a few minutes."

I don't know where they came from--maybe Scotty beamed them down--but we were instantly surrounded by armed men, weapons drawn. Maybe the screeners saw the grenades on their x-ray screen, who knows. But there we were.

I don't recall if we were in uniform or not, but we were allowed to show them our ID cards--our rank was listed as CADETUSMA, which we had to explain due to a lack of a comma. John explained what we were, where we'd been, and that the grenades were dummies. By this time the tension had calmed enough that he was actually allowed to handle a grenade to show that they were, in fact, hollow.

"We can't let you take those on the plane."

"Why not? You can see they're hollow."

"Yes, but if you were to pull one out on the plane and threaten with it, no one else would know they were hollow."

"I guess that's true. Darn, I wanted to give these to my brother."

So you know what they did? They "unchecked" his suitcase, watched him unscrew the handles from the pineapples, and allowed him to transport the dummy hand grenades in his checked baggage. And everyone lived happily ever after.

Notice this was 16 years before 9/11. Things aren't handled with such common sense today.

Prosecutors will decide whether to charge the 38-year-old with bringing a prohibited item into a secure area of the airport, a misdemeanor.


MikeAT said...

War Story. NSTIW.

I was a 2LT flying to Korea in 1988. I have for years carried a Swiss Army knife in my pocket. Flying from New Orleans to San Francisco to Japan on United Airlines this was no problem (as you can tell this is long time before 9/11). Going through the security at Tokyo airport I was stopped for the knife. For the first time in my flying life I was told this was not permitted. Now, unlike the TSA Gestapo I have to deal with on a regular basis, the Japanese personnel used some common sense. They pulled out a small box, put my knife in it and checked the package. I picked up my knife in Seoul.

Now, coming home from New Orleans a few months ago I forgot to put my knife in my checked baggage. So what do I get to do? Throw it away.

Gotta love American bureaucrats!

Ellen K said...

I have always wondered what they do with those vats and bins filled with toiletries that were discarded. It would be nice to think that they didn't end up in a landfill somewhere. But knowing the government, they probably did. I can think of several homeless and family shelters that would make good use of those supplies. On the other hand, what is with these people in the year 2009 that go the airport thinking THEY will be the ones who get a free pass to go through with all of their little extras? They hold up the lines and make everyone late. I have no patience for people who will not follow the rules.

Steve USMA '85 said...

I was mobilized in 2004 but stayed Stateside training Reservists going over to the sandbox. Part of my job required me to fly to various parts of the Country. During my time, I misplaced my Leatherman (fancy knife) and couldn't find it for about a month. During this month, I flew six times to Baltimore, Pittsburgh, and Syracuse. So I am digging through my computer bag for a thumb drive and behold, there is my Leatherman at the bottom of the bag. I had flown with it in my carry-on computer bag through three different airport security systems six times. They never detected it. Makes me feel real safe.