NEW YORK – Air travelers at New York's LaGuardia Airport found themselves in a mess of delays and missed connections Saturday after a homeless man carried a fake bomb into its central terminal, authorities said.
LaGuardia's central terminal was evacuated for several hours after the man entered the building with the phony explosive in a bag, then acted like he was trying to detonate it, police said.
The episode ended with a quick arrest, but it disrupted travel plans for thousands of people as flights were postponed and vehicle traffic to the airport was briefly halted. Delays also rippled across the country as airlines adjusted their schedules.
Late Saturday, a judge ordered a psychiatric examination for the suspect, Scott McGann, a 32-year-old who had apparently been living on New York City's streets for at least a year. McGann has been arrested in the city at least three times previously in the past two years, most recently in June, authorities said. He gave prosecutors a Manhattan address that does not exist, according to city property records.
McGann "is clearly a very troubled young man," Queens District Attorney Richard Brown said in a release.
McGann's arraignment, on charges including placing a false bomb in a transportation facility and making a terrorist threat, was postponed for a mental exam to determine if is fit to stand trial. He was held without bail, pending a court appearance Thursday. An attorney who represented him in court did not immediately return a telephone call.
McGann arrived at the airport dirty, disheveled and sweating profusely, but carrying a valid ticket for a United Airlines flight headed to Chicago, with connecting flights to Oakland, Calif., where he has family, authorities said.
A relative bought the ticket, said John Kelly, a spokesman for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
The trouble began shortly after 5 a.m., when McGann checked in for his flight and immediately began attracting attention because of his appearance and behavior. Police received two calls about an apparently intoxicated or suspicious passenger before he had even reached a security checkpoint.
Security officials said he was "just acting crazy," Kelly said.
Authorities stopped McGann, but he refused to answer questions when asked for identification, prosecutors said. He then appeared to depress a makeshift trigger with a wire that led to a suspicious-looking package on his backpack, prompting Port Authority police to move in.
Officers Robert Keane and Thomas Sullivan subdued McGann and wrested the bag away. A search of the bag revealed an assemblage of batteries, cylinders and electronics that could have been used to build a bomb, though it contained no actual explosives, prosecutors said. An NYPD bomb squad used a high-powered water cannon to blow the device apart.
If convicted, McGann faces up to seven years in prison.
The terminal was evacuated at around 5:30 a.m. Investigators quickly determined that the device wasn't dangerous, but travelers became inconvenienced as flights were postponed and traffic backed up outside. Passengers didn't get back in to the terminal until close to 9 a.m., and Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman Holly Baker said LaGuardia was closed to many incoming flights from 6:30 a.m. to 10 a.m.
The airport was running normally by Saturday evening, and there were no lingering flight delays around the country related to the incident, Baker said.
LaGuardia handles about 70 flights per hour, both departures and arrivals.
Roughly a half-dozen United flights were delayed because of the incident, airline spokesman Rahsaan Johnson said. Of the arrest, he said, "We are cooperating with authorities."
American Airlines canceled 16 departing and arriving flights. Delta Air Lines Inc. has a separate terminal from where the incident occurred, so planes continued to arrive and depart, but flights were still disrupted because traffic prevented flight crews from getting to the airport, airline spokesman Carlos Santos said.
Discount carrier AirTran Airways canceled two flights and delayed about a dozen others, spokesman Christopher White said.
Among the delayed fliers were 12-year-old Samantha Casady and her 10-year-old brother, Patrick, of Norwich, Conn., who were supposed to fly to Dallas at 7:15 a.m. by themselves to visit relatives.
Their mother, Colleen, said she and her husband were accompanying their children through a long security screening line when there was a commotion "and just a swarm of TSA."
Casady said she later saw a man in handcuffs, surrounded by police.
The family was initially directed to go to another security gate, but it was closed, "and a few minutes later, they evacuated the building," she said.