Lithium battery explosion causes panic at Orlando International Airport

'No shots fired;' OPD says noise sent people running at OIA

By Emilee Speck - Digital journalist

ORLANDO, Fla. - A camera battery that exploded Friday at the Orlando International Airport sent people into a panic, the Orlando Police Department said.

The noise of the lithium battery overheating and exploding in a camera bag, which happened at the security checkpoint near gates 1-59, scared travelers, but no one was hurt, police said.

Passengers in the main terminal building were evacuated just after 5 p.m. while Orlando police and airport staff investigated the circumstances, Greater Orlando Aviation Authority spokesman Rod Johnson said.

"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," Johnson said in a news release about the incident.

Lithium batteries with more than 100 watt-hours are allowed in carry-on bags with airline approval, but are prohibited in checked bags, according to the Transportation Security Administration.

Reports of a shooting at the airport circulated on social media as Orlando police quickly tried to quell the panic.

Gate areas were evacuated and passengers had to be rescreened before boarding their flights, Aviation Authority officials said.

"There was a loud sound that startled people, but no shots fired -- no danger to public," Orlando police tweeted.

Airport officials said the gate areas continued to undergo security checks.

Once it was determined there was no danger to the public, passengers were allowed back inside the main terminal building.

At 7:41 p.m., Airside 2, gates 100-129, reopened to passengers. At 8:08 p.m., Airside 4, gates 70-99, reopened to passengers. At 8:43 p.m., Airsides 3 and 4, gates 1-59, reopened to passengers.

Social media users shared photos of people walking on the tram tracks to leave the airport and an empty security line.

Lines to be checked by security continued growing Friday night. Passengers were instructed to check with their airlines regarding their flight status.

Greater Orlando Aviation Authority's Phil Brown released a letter Saturday about the incident:

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 toward 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

Copyright 2017 by WKMG ClickOrlando - All rights reserved.