The hustle and bustle of holiday travel came to a standstill on Dec. 23 after Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officials at the Santa Maria Public Airport reported a “suspicious item” in a suitcase to local law enforcement agencies, according to a press release from the city of Santa Maria.
Members of the Santa Maria Police Department, the FBI, and the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department responded to the alert, and the Sheriff’s bomb squad used a mechanical robot to locate and inspect the suitcase. The entire terminal was evacuated, and all pre-loading passengers, employees, and passengers from a plane that had just landed were escorted to a nearby hotel.
“Santa Maria, who woulda thought?” one waiting man said with a chuckle, his bare arms crossed to block the chilly wind blowing through the parking lot.
Once the suitcase was opened, officials determined the “suspicious item” to be a child’s toy that contained some kind of internal wiring, said Lt. Rico Flores of the Santa Maria Police Department.
In an interview following the incident, Flores said the new security machine used to X-ray the suitcase detected “some indications that the device could be used for destruction” or as a “detonator.”
According to police officials, the suitcase’s owners were traveling out of state for the holiday.
Four hours after the initial alert, the terminal was re-opened and travelers were permitted to continue on their way.