TSA agent details moments after lithium battery explosion at OIA

Video shows moments right after battery exploded in bag

By Clay LePard - Reporter , Troy Blevins - Online Editor

ORLANDO, Fla. - A TSA agent detailed what happened in the moments at Orlando International Airport after he saw someone's bag smoking and a lithium battery exploding inside.

Leaders at the airport said they plan on reviewing how they responded to the camera battery explosion in a backpack Friday night, causing chaos and hours of delays.

The TSA agent who grabbed that bag said he moved it right over to between two pillars to minimize any impact in case the camera bag exploded.

"I heard people yelling," TSA agent Ricardo Perez said.

Surveillance video shows the moments right after a lithium battery exploded inside one passenger's bag just outside a security checkpoint.

"I was so close to the bag. Let me get it out of the way," Perez said.

Perez is the TSA agent who grabbed the bag.

"There were folks all over. Bag went and started smoking," Perez said. "I approached it, I radioed and then I picked up the bag and brought it over to that handicap sign over there in hopes that if it would go off, it would be able to have some of the shock absorbed by those two pillars."

Perez felt compelled to join TSA after what happened on Sept. 11.

"I lost a few friends, TSA became available and I figured that was the way to serve my country again," Perez said.

The CEO of the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority, in the letter below, detailed how and why security responded the way they did after the lithium battery exploded inside the bag.

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 

[RELATED: Lithium battery explosion causes panic at Orlando International Airport]

As a result of all the chaos Friday evening, every passenger who was on a plane sitting on the tarmac, waiting at the gate or just in the terminal had to go through airport screening again. That's where the hours and hours of delays came into play. Some planes struggled to get gate space during all this and more than 20 flights were canceled.

It's a small price compared to what could have been.

"A lot relieved. That it wasn't a worst-case scenario because it could have been and a lot of people hurt," Perez said.

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