Long delays at Orlando airport after lithium ion Tesla-Like battery explodes in bag, causing panic and evacuation

 and Contact ReportersOrlando Sentinel

Thousands of travelers faced hours of waiting at security checkpoints at Orlando International Airport on Friday night after a camera battery exploded, causing people to panic and the airport to be evacuated.

Shortly after the 5 p.m. incident, passengers were ordered to de-plane and people waiting at their gates were forced to be re-screened through TSA checkpoints.

Hours later, exasperated passengers clogged the terminals, standing in slow-moving lines.

Mike Robinson said he was preparing to get on a flight to Dallas when he heard a loud noise.

“It was pandemonium,” he said. People sprinted past the security checkpoint to take cover.

“Now they’re bringing people out of their gates, off-loading them to be screened again,” Robinson said. “There’s thousands and thousands of people. … I look back and I see a sea of people.”

He said at least 10 bomb-sniffing dogs were brought into the terminal.

According to the Orlando Police Department, the incident that prompted the delays was a lithium camera battery that overheated and exploded in the main terminal.

Travelers quickly posted on social media that they had fled the airport and feared for their lives. While rumors circulated online, OPD posted a message on Twitter denouncing any danger.

Authorities said no shots had been fired and there was “no danger to the public.” They said the camera bag was “smoldering.”

Airport spokesman Rod Johnson said the noise was reported shortly after 5 p.m. in front of the security checkpoint for Gates 1-59.

Phil Brown, CEO of the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority, said a full ground-stop was issued at 5:30 p.m. and lasted until 9 p.m.

Terminals A and B were evacuated, and trams were stopped temporarily, he said. The security checkpoints remained closed while authorities investigated the incident.

By 8:45 p.m., all gates had reopened to passengers.

At a press conference Friday night, Brown said 24 flights were canceled and 27 others were diverted. He acknowledged that some passengers will have to book new flights, and others might struggle to find hotel rooms for the night; dozens were left stranded at the terminals Friday. He expects the incident will cause delays overnight and into Saturday morning.

Brown said that people “self-evacuated” outside the airport and past security checkpoints, which prompted authorities to clear all airport gates and conduct a widespread screen.

He added that some airport staff and TSA agents instructed the crowd to take cover, when the initial explosion created confusion among staff and passengers. OPD has the bag with the explosive camera battery, he said.

Confused travelers waited in long lines to get through security, where posted wait times exceeded two hours.

“We were taxiing. The pilot comes back and says, ‘We gotta go back,’ ” said a New York resident who was headed to Westchester, N.Y., on JetBlue.

The man, would not give his name, said: “I thought it was absurd. Absolutely ridiculous.”

“They don’t know what they’re doing, in my opinion,” he said, describing the confusion about how to get back through security.

Jon Olafsson, 65, and his wife, Kristin, 61, were on an Iceland Air plane headed back to their native Iceland when they were turned back.

“It’s just one of those things — too old to get angry,” Jon Olafsson said. He said the couple had been in Orlando for four weeks on a golfing vacation.

Michael Williams was sitting on a plane that was about to take off for Phoenix when the flight crew ordered all passengers to take their baggage and exit the plane.

He said having thousands of people standing outside the checkpoints was a “major safety hazard.”

“This is horribly dangerous,” Williams said.

Brown said that there are always lessons to be learned from emergency situations, and GOAA administrators would be meeting Monday with all the airlines to evaluate the airport’s response.

“It was difficult to hear … we tried to get the most salient and necessary information out to the public,” he said.

Giovanna Triassa, 27, an Orlando travel agent, said she was flying to Los Angeles to meet her mother for a cruise.

“There’s nothing you can do, really,” she said. “That’s why I did the flight one day before the cruise. I know these things can happen.”

Caitlin Doornbos contributed to this report.