The main terminal at Daniel K. Inouye International Airport was shut down on Tuesday after a malfunctioning laptop at a security checkpoint led to false reports of an active shooter, an evacuation of thousands of passengers, and the delay and cancellation of flights.
Terminal 2 reopened shortly before 6 p.m. nearly four hours after the incident set off chaos, panic and confusion at Hawaii’s largest airport.
The Transportation Security Administration said a laptop in a traveler’s carry-on luggage overheated at a security checkpoint at about 2:10 p.m.
“This created confusion and some travelers ran into the sterile area of the airport without being screened. Out of an abundance of caution, TSA leadership made the decision to evacuate Terminal 2 and re-screen all passengers,” the TSA said in a statement.
The laptop reportedly popped and started to smoke, apparently from a lithium battery, Hawaii Department of Transportation spokesman Tim Sakahara said.
“Someone may have shouted shooter,” he said.
Mike Corney, a business consultant on his way back to Atlanta, said he heard the popping from what looked like another traveler’s bag several feet ahead of him in a TSA screening line.
“There was a little bit of smoke that came out of their bag, and then a little pop,” he said. “Someone asked, ‘Is that a shot?’ That’s all it took. It was chaos for about five minutes.”
Corney said the popping didn’t resemble gunfire.
“It was just like popcorn,” he said. “It wasn’t loud. It was just enough to start rumors.”
Soon after the false reports began spreading on social media, DOT officials tweeted out that there was no shooter at the airport.
“There are false reports of an active shooter at the Daniel K. Inouye International Airport. More information to come, but there is NO active shooter situation at the airport,” DOT officials tweeted at about 2:33 p.m.
However, the scare already had caused chaos and disruption to the airport’s busy operations. Various social media accounts reported a stampede of people yelling shooter, passengers being ordered to deplane and frustration at being stuck at the airport for eight hours.
All flights out of Terminal 2 gates were held, and passengers, including those who were far into the process of boarding, were told they had to be re-screened through other TSA checkpoints.
Thousands of passengers were herded outside while the terminal was being secured.
Sherry Jurewicz said she was eating lunch inside the airport after clearing security when the commotion erupted. “A couple across from us said ‘active shooter’ and ran out of the restaurant.”
Moments later, security came and told Jurewicz, who was waiting for a 5:15 p.m. flight to Tampa, Fla., following a 13-day vacation in Hawaii, that she had to leave the terminal, she recalled.
“Some people were scared, running and screaming and crying. Some were even hiding under desks and chairs,” said Butch Llewellyn of Niu Valley, recalling the initial wave of panic in the terminal.
Llewellen said his Alaska Airlines flight to San Jose, Calif., scheduled to take off at 3:50 p.m., was canceled. He said he was told another flight would be available Wednesday.
Jannette Hunter, who spent a week in Hawaii with her husband and two children who just graduated from high school, said she was on a Hawaiian Airlines plane just a few minutes before the plane doors would be closed for a 3 p.m. scheduled departure to Las Vegas when airline personnel announced that there was a security breach and that everyone had to get off the plane.
“At first I thought it was a joke,” Hunter said. “It seemed a little chaotic.”
Some delayed travelers said it was understandable that the terminal inside security checkpoints had to be cleared, but wondered how that could take so long. Others were frustrated at how the evacuation was carried out.
Jurewicz said security initially made people stand in the road that is typically used for dropping off departing passengers but had been blocked off to traffic. Then they were allowed to stand on the sidewalk. No one was allowed even near the ticketing areas.
At one point, a sheriff’s officer told people they could order drinks from a Starbucks outside the ticketing area but that they had to consume their drinks on the sidewalk.
Michael Goins, a retiree trying to fly home to Las Vegas, said no information had been communicated to him by airport personnel close to 3 hours after the incident.
“There are two to three thousand people out here,” he said. “No one is telling us anything.”
At one point a sheriff’s officer with a bullhorn let people know there were bathrooms, water and air-conditioned spaces available in baggage claim areas one level below the departure area. At that point, he had no estimate for when the terminal would reopen so they could catch their long-delayed flights.