Man starts police chase on Phila. airport runway
Police are investigating whether there are ways to make the airport more secure
By Patrick Walters
PHILADELPHIA — A day after an SUV crashed through a fence and sped onto a runway, causing an approaching plane to have to pull up quickly, officials said that the facility's perimeter fencing meets federal standards but that police are investigating whether there are ways to make the airport more secure.
Kenneth Richard Mazik is being charged with disrupting operations at the airport and endangering safety there, the U.S. attorney said Friday. Mazik, of the Philadelphia suburb of Chadds Ford, drove his Jeep through a fence Thursday and sped up and down two runways at speeds of more than 100 mph before being surrounded and apprehended, police said.
The case has no connection to terrorism, investigators said, and the Jeep tested negative for explosives and other hazardous materials. The 24-year-old Mazik also faces DUI and reckless endangerment charges.
The SUV caused pilots and air-traffic controllers to scramble and make last-minute adjustments in the air and on the ground, affecting dozens of aircraft.
One flight was about 20 seconds from touching down when it had to pull up suddenly after a controller spotted the vehicle on the tarmac in foggy conditions, said Don Chapman, president of Philadelphia local of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association.
"The controller working the landing runway noticed a target come onto the runway in front of this airplane," Chapman said. "It's a very close call."
In a federal affidavit, authorities said Mazik accelerated through a metal fence as a plane approached the runway and drove faster than 100 mph on the tarmac. Authorities estimated that 75 aircraft had to circle the airport to prepare for landing and 80 were prevented from departing on time.
According to a flurry of radio transmissions, pilots struggled to figure out just what was going on. One on the ground radioed: "I don't trust this guy. Are you OK if we pull off the runway in case he comes right at us?"
Airport spokeswoman Victoria Lupica said that the facility's perimeter is secure and meets federal standards and that this was the first case of a vehicle getting onto the runway at the airport.
"The airport's airfield perimeter security fencing meets or exceeds all federally mandated standards and our airfield is secure," Lupica said in a statement. "While this was a very rare incident, the various layers of security interacted extremely well to bring this incident to a safe conclusion."
Authorities will be conducting a thorough review to see if security improvements can be made in the wake of the incident, said Chief Inspector Joe Sullivan, who heads the Philadelphia Police Department's homeland security and counterterrorism division.
Investigators are gathering video, listening to audio and gathering data collected by ground radar as part of their review, Sullivan said. They have also been interviewing police, construction workers, airport personnel and others.
Authorities will look into whether there are ways to make the airport more secure at the entrances and exits of the airfield. Police will look at how they deploy their personnel, whether additional technology could be used and whether structural improvements could be made, Sullivan said.
"People must come and go from numerous points on the airport perimeter," he said, noting that the gate where Thursday's security breach happened was locked. "It's got to be a more holistic approach."
The airport presents a challenge for security, especially since a lot of construction is going on and people need to be able to come and go at numerous areas throughout the sprawling facility, Sullivan said. All those entry points are monitored continually throughout the day.
"There is never going to be 100 percent security. That's why we have to rely on a mix of people and technology and intelligence and insure that we all work together down there," Sullivan said. "We don't want to make any snap decisions. ... We don't want to make changes for the sake of change."
Ann Davis, a spokeswoman for the Transportation Security Administration, said the response by police and airport officials showed that the system worked since the suspect was spotted, pursued by police and arrested in five minutes. The TSA and the airport are reviewing the incident, Davis said in a statement.
It wasn't immediately clear if Mazik had obtained an attorney. A message left at a telephone listing for his mother wasn't immediately returned.
Copyright 2012 Associated Press