AIRPORT--Another KLM plane was the target of an apparent bomb-scare hoax on Friday afternoon. An anonymous caller phoned airport check-in counter 46 and said that there was a bomb on KLM flight 785. Although no bombs were found after thorough searches of both the plane and the airport building, this is the second such costly and disruptive bomb-scare in a matter of months.
Another scare, also pointing to a bomb on KLM, prompted a mass evacuation of Princess Juliana International Airport SXM on Saturday, December 6, 2014.
Friday’s threat was called in at 11:45am, airport Special Projects Coordinator Robert Brown relayed during an impromptu press conference held jointly with Minister of Tourism, Economic Affairs, Transport and Telecommunication Claret Connor and Chief Inspector Police spokesperson Ricardo Henson.
Emergency procedures started after the agent to receive the call informed a security guard. By 11:48am the evacuation started and by 11:59am the building was cleared of passengers, Brown said.
The evacuation was said to have run smoothly and passengers were directed to safer locations, especially to the east of the airport because of high winds.
Nearby roads between the Causeway roundabout and Maho roundabout were blocked by the Police minutes after noon as emergency vehicles including a bomb squad made their way to the airport to search the aircraft and then the rest of the premises.
The Department of Communication issued an emergency media release at 1:02pm which on-air media outlets were able to share.
The release informed the public of the threat, the roads blocked by police checkpoints, and that “air traffic movements or scheduled flights have been re-routed to other destinations until further notice.”
Roads were reopened and the airport resumed operations at 2:15pm, after authorities gave the all-clear sign.
Brown said that passengers were given regular updates and water. The perceived lack thereof had been a complaint expressed by some of the less patient passengers during the last evacuation, although most passengers had been understanding of the situation.
The impromptu press conference was held for media present, members of which were not allowed past the roadblock at the Causeway roundabout, at 1:33pm. By that time, Henson said that the aircraft and building had been searched, and that procedures were being rounded off.
Both Henson and Minister Connor acknowledged the inconvenience – which included backed up traffic which reached to Cole Bay – but urged the public to understand that safety takes priority and that various protocols had to be followed according to international civil aviation regulations.
“Obviously this is never pleasant to deal with but we have to take all necessary measures to ensure the public at large is safe,” the Minister said, adding that the procedures were taking place swiftly so that the island is not kept at a standstill and so that passengers needing to leave can do so and so that planes hovering would be able to land. He commended the professionalism.
The representatives were unable to ascertain how many flights had been diverted or delayed on Friday, but both Delta and AirFrance could not land. AirFrance went instead to Guadeloupe, and both were said to be on the way back shortly after 3:00pm.
Friday seemed less busy than the last evacuation, although it can be assumed that the typical hindrances would still arise such as having to delay further flights because of crew’s rest time regulations and having more aircraft land within shorter spaces of time.
The incident also hindered airport personnel including key officials from entering without hindrance. Both Managing Director Regina LaBega and an Air Traffic Controller were spotted being held up at the checkpoints.
In the December incident, there were a number of irate KLM passengers stranded after a Friday, and then a Saturday KLM flight had been cancelled following a technical fault in the plane’s cockpit instrumentation system, sources revealed. The unconfirmed theory is that one of the irate passengers had called the threat in.
However, both airport Special Projects Coordinator Robert Brown and Prosecutor’s Office Spokesperson Tineke Kamps said that there were no updates on finding the last culprit, when asked by The Daily Herald.