An 80-year old woman catching a flight from the Myrtle Beach International Airport had no idea that the walking cane she leaned on for years was actually a deadly weapon until the stick was X-rayed by TSA security officials.
The elegant bronze handle, when slightly twisted and tugged, revealed a hidden sword nearly the length of the cane.
“She had no clue it was in there,” said Mark Howell, TSA regional spokesman, who was at Myrtle Beach International Airport Thursday. Howell was part of a media event to highlight dangerous items recently carried by passengers departing MYR.
The cane was a gift from her son, and one she had to grudgingly abandon at the security checkpoint in order to make her flight.
“It happens a lot, actually,” Howell said of the secret swords discovered by TSA screeners. “People pick them up at a thrift store and the sword isn’t found until we X-ray it.”
The cane was on display at Thursday’s event.
A 57-year old man was arrested there Monday after TSA screeners discovered a gun in his carry-on luggage.
The Indiana man, Daniel J. Clarence, was charged for carrying the weapon into a restricted place and released later that day on a $5,000 bond.
Howell said that about 99 percent of the time, passengers don’t intentionally pack guns in their carry-on bags.
“The most common excuse is ‘oops, I forgot to take it out before I came to the airport,’ or their husband or wife packed the bag for them,” Howell said.
It’s a costly mistake that can bring civil penalties from TSA as high as $11,000 for a first offense, as well as criminal charges from local law enforcement.
While some carry-on items are an obvious no-no after the September 11 terrorist attacks such as knives, box cutters and other weapons, some obscure items discovered in luggage includes weed whackers and chain saws.
Then there are the foam rubber novelty toys, squishy stress balls designed to look like hand grenades, that are also considered dangerous.
“You could cause a major panic on board an aircraft just from brandishing something like that,” Howell said.
Novelty, inert or dummy grenades can also activate a security lockdown of screening areas or an entire airport.
“When we put it through (screening) we’re not going to know at first glance whether it’s real or not, so in an overabundance of caution we’re going to shut the whole checkpoint down,” Howell said.
“They’re going to call in local law enforcement and bomb technicians and that will basically close checkpoints and the airport down until that item is cleared, so you could have a major delay there just for a novelty item,” Howell said.
Toy guns are not permitted on airplanes, as it can also cause a panic, and replica ammunition, even those fashioned into bottle openers, are also forbidden.
About 25 to 30 pounds of these banned items are surrendered at the Myrtle Beach airport every month, Howell said.
TSA does not keep the items and neither does the airport.
“We don’t want to have anything to do with them,” Howell said.
Instead, South Carolina has a contract with the state of Alabama to pick up the items on a regular basis, which is then resold by the state’s surplus office and they keep the funds to pay for the effort.