NEW YORK – A busy terminal at John F. Kennedy International Airport was evacuated after a man opened a restricted door and set off an alarm, authorities said, making it the second known security breach at a New York-area airport this month.
The breach delayed dozens of flights and caused headaches for hundreds of travelers who had to exit the terminal and wait for hours as police swept through the building. The passengers at JFK were then shepherded through additional screening.
The man, Jules Paul Bouloute, is of Haitian descent but lives in Brooklyn, said Steve Coleman, a spokesman for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates the airport. He was arrested on a charge of criminal trespass.
Bouloute was in Haiti during Tuesday's earthquake but took a flight on Saturday from Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, to Orlando, Fla., where he caught a connecting flight to New York City, Coleman said.
It wasn't immediately clear where Bouloute was when the earthquake struck, and it's unclear how or when he got from Haiti to the Dominican Republic, Coleman said.
Bouloute's phone number was unlisted. He was expected to be arraigned Sunday in Queens, Coleman said. Port Authority police were questioning him Saturday night.
Authorities earlier said the security breach was caused by a passenger who was exiting Kennedy's Terminal 8 and opened a door that was supposed to be used only by airport workers.
Coleman said security cameras recorded the incident just before 3:30 p.m. A similar incident happened two weeks ago at a New York-area airport: A security breach at Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey on Jan. 3 forced passengers to be re-screened.
Authorities were initially unsure Saturday whether the person had been coming or going from the JFK terminal, and they evacuated the secure areas of the building while they investigated. The Transportation Security Administration said its agents and Port Authority police were involved in the investigation.
People waiting to get on their flights said they were awe-struck that someone could just walk through a restricted door at the airport.
"They have such big signs, I don't know how you can miss that," said Teijo Niemela of Lambertville, N.J., as he waited in a security line for a delayed flight to Helsinki. "That makes me angry about the whole system. We pay a lot of money because of someone's mistakes."
Judy Erickson, a hairdresser who was waiting to get on a flight to Los Angeles, also said she was baffled by how easy it was for the passenger to go into a restricted area. "All those doors that you're not supposed to go through should have a guard or security," she said.
Terminal 8 handles both domestic and international flights for American Airlines.
A spokesman for the airline, Charley Wilson, said some flights were being delayed, and some planes were waiting on the tarmac for permission to proceed to their gates. He said the airline had estimated flights would be delayed two to three hours.
Security officials began to let passengers back in around 6 p.m. but weren't sure how long it would take for everyone to pass through security checkpoints.
Inside the terminal, hundreds of people waited in a long line outside the security gate. Dozens of people sat on the floor with their bags.
"The rest of us are made to suffer," said Meganne Harvey, 22, who was trying to fly home to San Diego after a trip to Paris.
The incident is the third evacuation in five months at airports that serve New York City.
A Rutgers University graduate student from China, Haisong Jiang, 28, was charged last week with trespassing in the security breach at the Newark airport. Flights were grounded for hours and passengers were re-screened while air safety officials searched for a man who had walked through the exit of a security checkpoint.
Jiang's arraignment is set for Jan. 28 in Newark.
In August, a terminal at LaGuardia was evacuated after police tackled a disturbed man who was carrying a device that looked like a bomb but turned out to be harmless.