Traffic heavy at OIA after lithium-ion battery explosion cancels 24 flights

by: Sarahbeth Ackerman Updated:

ORLANDO, Fla. - Orlando International Airport officials urge flyers to arrive early for their flights Saturday due to heavy traffic from passengers on the 24 flights canceled during Friday's panic after a lithium-ion battery exploded in a passenger's bag.

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Numerous people at Orlando International Airport Friday reported there was a panic caused by a noise initially thought to be a gunshot.

The Orlando Police Department, though, said on Twitter that no shots had been fired and it was "a loud sound that startled people."

Read: Gunman in military gear caused scare at OIA, police say

The department later said on Twitter that the noise was caused by a lithium-ion battery inside a camera that exploded. 

Greater Orlando Aviation Authority CEO Phil Brown released a letter addressing the incident: 

To those at Orlando international Airport last evening, November 10, 2017:


First, I would like to thank everyone involved in last evening’s incident, customers and staff, for their focus on security and safety, patience and compassion towards each other. What started as a typical Friday evening quickly became anything but. There seems to be some confusion on exactly what occurred last evening, I am happy to share what I know. 


An incident occurred on the “A” side of the main terminal outside of the security checkpoint for gates 1-59. A passenger entering the checkpoint had a camera in their carry-on when apparently, the lithium ion battery for the camera caught fire and the bag began to smoke. Realizing this, the passenger of course immediately dropped the bag and those around them moved away from it. Emergency services arrived quickly and moved the bag farther away from passengers queued for security. Unfortunately, with all of the events occurring around the world some witnesses panicked and self-evacuated the area dropping their carry-on luggage and knocking over the stanchions queueing the checkpoint. Others hearing the luggage being dropped, stanchions falling, and rapid movement mistook the sounds as gunfire and within seconds a spontaneous evacuation of the main terminal occurred. During this time emergency staff attempted to calm, gain control, gather everyone back into the building and resume operations. We attempted various methods of communicating but as everyone is aware, a few trying to communicate a message to this large of a mass is a daunting task but efforts were continued throughout the event. Communications is and will always be an issue in this type of a situation but please know that we will always try our best in communicating all available information to our customers and our staff. 


In an abundance of precaution the TSA directed the airport to have all passengers at every gate be brought back to the main terminal for rescreening, including all that had boarded a departing flight and those on aircraft awaiting to take off. No one could go to the airside until this was accomplished and gate areas were found to be secure. In this type of situation, we fully complied and fully supported this directive because above all, safety and security is our primary objective. Understandably, this event was very time consuming. Gates 70-129 passenger-screening operations resumed about 2.5 hours after the event occurred and Gates 1-59 about 4 hours after. Much of the delay stemmed from a lack of gate space for returning aircraft and aircraft that needed to be moved/relocated. In noting similar events, I would like to commend all of our staff and the airport community for their roles and actions in this event. And again, a credit to you all with a huge thanks from us for your understanding of the situation and your patience. Thank you and we hope to see you in the terminal soon.


Sincerely,
Phil Brown, CEO
Greater Orlando Aviation Authority  

The bag the camera was in started to smolder, but no one was injured, the OPD tweet said.

The incident was first reported just after 5 p.m., airport officials said in a statement.

Watch: Examining the dangers of lithium batteries

"As a result of the incident, a ground stop was issued and a number of flights were held while passengers were allowed back into the building and security checkpoints reactivated," the statement said.

The incident did not pose any danger to people at the airport, the department's Twitter post said.

Regardless, photos given to Channel 9 showed a normally busy terminal that was completely empty.

A video showed people evacuating trams at the airport.

Raw video: Passengers walk along tram track after panic at OIA

Because everyone who evacuated the terminal had to go through security screening again, travelers were experiencing inordinately long lines.

"It's crazy. Nobody knows anything," traveler McKenzie Golden said. 

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She had just gone through the security checkpoint and was preparing to get onto a flight home to Michigan when the chaos hit.

"I heard people screaming and then everybody hit the ground and people were basically running over each other, trampling each other," Golden said.

Numerous flights were delayed due to the incident. 

Hours after the battery explosion, massive crowds were still working their way through security to get to their flights.

 

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