MAXINE BERNSTEIN, The Oregonian
SUMMARY: PDX alarm | A bomb squad uses a robot on a briefcase that held . . . a radar golf ball tracker
Hundreds of travelers at Portland International Airport wound up in a security sand trap Tuesday when a piece of high-tech golf equipment touched off anti-terrorism alarms.
A Nike golf expert had checked the unassuming, hard-sided gray briefcase through to Dallas shortly before noon and left to board his 1:14 p.m. plane before something in his baggage triggered alarms.
Transportation security officers evacuated part of the terminal, shut down two of three ticket lobbies, closed traffic lanes in front of the airport and summoned the Portland Police Bureau’s bomb squad. A remote-controlled robot retrieved the case from the baggage scanner, enabling police to see the name tag.
When the passenger who owned the briefcase was located and hustled back into the terminal, the mystery was finally cleared up: He assured police that it was harmless. The case that had partly shut down the airport for 21/2 hours held a device that uses Doppler radar to record every move of a golf ball in flight.
Nike issued a statement later saying the company regretted inconveniencing travelers and airport personnel and recognizing that law enforcement acted out of concern for the traveling population.
«However, golfers with slices, hooks and other maladies on the greens will hopefully benefit by this technology quickly reaching its destination and helping us to further improve our expanding line of clubs and balls.»
Set up behind the golfer, the so-called Track Man uses a radar signal to record the golf ball’s launch conditions, launch angle and spin, said Beth Gast, a Nike spokeswoman.
The owner of the case, a gray-haired, trim man wearing a black shirt with a Nike logo on one sleeve and carrying a black Nike sports bag, cooperated with officials but declined comment as a Port of Portland officer ushered him through a side door to help find him another flight.
At least one traveler, who had to wait in two long lines to check in for his flight to San Francisco because of the bomb scare, wasn’t thrilled to learn what caused the commotion.
«It’s stupid,» said Kam Yim, upon learning the true contents of the suspicious case.
Mike Irwin, federal security director for Oregon’s branch of the Transportation Security Administration, said the Nike employee told security officials that the golf tracker had set off alarms before in other airports.
«So we had a discussion about ‘Don’t take that anymore on airplanes,’ » Irwin added.
Nike said in its statement that it would work to ensure smooth passage of such equipment on flights in the future. Airport security has come across other suspicious items in the past. Before Tuesday, the oddest object to cause concern was nearly two years ago when a christening kit was contained in a tube that looked like a pipe bomb, according to Lt. Mark Daniel of Port of Portland police.
Daniel said Tuesday’s episode «was a good learning experience for everybody.» Asked if that included the owner of the bag, Daniel said: «One could only hope.»
Reporter Helen Jung contributed to this report.
MAXINE BERNSTEIN, The Oregonian