Thursday, July 22, 2004
Man caught after scaling fence at airport
The Sunday incident is the latest security lapse at airport, considered a top target of terrorists.
By Greg Krikorian and Andrew Blankstein
The Los Angeles (CA) Times

In the latest security lapse at Los Angeles International Airport, a man with a bag scaled a security fence before dawn Sunday before being caught as he stood on a taxiway, law enforcement sources said Tuesday. The man, who told officers he was hoping to sneak onto a plane bound for Paris, was being held for observation at Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center and was never deemed a threat to the airport, officials said.

Still, the incident raised new questions about the around-the-clock safety of a site generally considered to be the No. 1 terrorist target in the West.

“It’s chilling,” said Los Angeles City Councilman Jack Weiss. “If someone who may not have all their wits about them can accomplish this deep a security penetration, it’s scary to think what a group or individual intent on a serious attack could accomplish.”

“It’s alarming that this could have been done,” said one federal counterterrorism official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

But airport officials said the man’s speedy apprehension illustrated that security measures at the airport were working. They also said they could not recall a similar incident in more than a year.

“The fact that the individual was apprehended quickly is certainly important, and we are in a constant mode of enhancing security here,” said airport department spokesman Paul Haney. “It is a never-ending question for the maximum security that can be provided. For this to occur is very rare, and the goal is to have zero breaches of this nature.”

The incident, according to records and interviews, began about 5 a.m. Sunday, when Arshak Hunanyan, 23, of Glendale scaled a security fence at the western end of the airport.

The area is being upgraded with new fencing and other security measures as part of a $15-million project that began more than a year ago. Since the incident, security in the area has been increased.

According to interviews and reports, Hunanyan was first observed by an airport maintenance worker who notified LAX police that a man was standing on a taxiway.

Arriving officers said the man told them he had driven to the airport hours earlier and jumped the fence with the hope of sneaking aboard a plane bound for Paris. The man, officers said in a report, said he had been diagnosed with depression and had been prescribed medication but chose not to take it.

Officers searched his bag and found a flashlight, computer equipment and clothing.

The incident comes only weeks after the airport department’s SWAT team sparked controversy by storming a Singapore Airlines jetliner after its transponder falsely signaled that the aircraft had been hijacked.

Airport officials and representatives of the FBI and Los Angeles police say that has led to new protocols to more clearly define responsibilities in the event of a potential hijacking.