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Scare grounds Palm Springs flight

By Kenny Klein and Jeff Donaldson

The Desert Sun

November 2, 2001


A Chicago-bound American Airlines jet was grounded Thursday at Palm Springs International Airport after a flight attendant spotted a suspicious item at the back of the plane’s cabin.

The small plastic bag, found by the attendant about 1:25 p.m., contained an unspecified "brown material," said Palm Springs city spokeswoman Lee Husfeldt.

One hundred and thirteen passengers on the inbound American flight had just deplaned when the attendant saw the item.

A Riverside County Sheriff’s explosives team later X-rayed and removed the item but not before Palm Springs fire crews and airport police surrounded the MD-80 and prepared a plan to inspect the plane.

The substance was not found to be explosive but, as a precaution, the material was taken to the county’s department of health in Riverside for further analysis, Husfeldt said.

The airport remained open and no other incoming or outgoing flights were affected, Husfeldt said.

But the approximately 60 passengers preparing to head to Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport discovered they would spend an extra day in Palm Springs.

American Flight 1498 to O’Hare will not leave until 7 a.m. today, Husfeldt said.

Despite the inconvenience, the response was part of a choreographed plan, Husfeldt said.

"The response went as expected. It was thought to be a hazardous materials situation and our units responded as an emergency team," she said.

September’s attacks and the new threat of bioterrrorism were also on the minds of responders, Husfeldt said.

"There’s a heightened sense of awareness around the country, so items are handled with a lot of concern."

For passengers leaving or waiting to board the plane for O’Hare, the incident was unnerving.

Heidi Shuplinkov was one of those passengers.

She had just said good-bye to her mother and was ready for the 1 p.m. boarding call that never came.

"We didn’t know what was happening," Shuplinkov said. "There wasn’t even an employee there so we could ask questions -- we had to make assumptions. Everyone was frustrated because we all had connecting flights."

Like the other passengers, Shuplinkov watched through the terminal window as firefighters and hazardous materials specialists dressed in protective gear began to work around the airplane.

She said passengers began speculating that something had been found -- an assumption confirmed shortly after 2 p.m. by an announcement in the terminal. There, she learned the plane would be delayed for another hour while investigators examined a suspicious substance found on board.

The delay made for some uneasy moments for Shuplinkov.

She was hoping to change her ticket to leave Friday or Saturday instead.

"We’re already nervous as it is, then things like this happen and it makes you more nervous."

-- PHO (, November 02, 2001


Let me guess...Coffee grounds

-- Steve McClendon (, November 02, 2001.

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