Model of human skull found in luggage shuts down airport security

Explosives experts and bomb-sniffing dogs called to the scene

Benjamin Parker
Monday 02 October 2023 12:36 BST
Skullduggery: The model skull triggered a security alert
Skullduggery: The model skull triggered a security alert (Transportation Security Administration)

An airport’s baggage security operation was shut down for several hours after a suspicious item was detected in a passenger’s luggage – though it was revealed to be rather less sinister on investigation.

Salt Lake City International Airport suspended its checked baggage screening around 8am on 18 September after discovering a potential security threat while looking at X-ray images of the bag’s contents.

What officers saw resembled a skull with “unidentifiable components inside”, which led the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to conclude it could be “an improvised explosive device”, resulting in a two-hour pause on bag screening.

The TSA notified the Salt Lake City Police Airport Division, who worked with the agency’s explosives specialist to mitigate the immediate threat using an explosive detection dog. They contacted the passenger who was able to explain what the item was and why he was traveling with it.

It was a plastic skull, which contained putty, a nine-volt battery and a sensor. The medical training device can be used to train spinal and neurosurgeons on how to conduct a lobotomy, said the TSA.

The passenger was transporting the item for display at a trade show in Cancun, Mexico.

“This incident and subsequent response is an example of how TSA must take every potential security threat seriously while making sure that the transportation system is not put at risk,” said Matt Davis, TSA federal security director for Utah.

“I was pleased at the professionalism of everyone involved who worked closely to fully resolve the matter, to ensure that security was not compromised and to resume operations as quickly as possible.”

Ultimately, TSA officials determined the item was not permitted to travel on a commercial aircraft. Instead, the skull was kept by the TSA to be picked up by the traveller upon his return to Salt Lake City.

Meanwhile, a man blamed his wife for a mishap that stopped him from getting through airport security and could result in a hefty $15,000 (£12,317) fine.

TSA officers at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, in the US state of Virginia, discovered a loaded handgun in the man’s carry-on luggage as he went through an X-ray machine – the passenger denied any knowledge that it was in there and said his spouse had packed his bag.

Read more: The 37 items you can’t bring in your hand luggage

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