TAMPA — Tampa International Airport's Airside C seemed to be under siege Wednesday afternoon. Evacuation orders spilled out of intercoms, sending 1,000 passengers to the entrance. Staff at Chili's and Starbucks hurriedly pulled down their gates, and security officers searched even the refrigerators.
More than two hours passed before airport officials explained: They'd lost, then found, a canine training aid laced with explosives.
At about 12:50 p.m., officials realized that a training aid with "minute amounts" of explosive materials was missing in Airside C, said Ed Cooley, senior director for the airport's operations and public safety.
Beyond that, he parted with few details. Had someone moved the aid? Cooley said he didn't know. Did a dog or a trainer lose track? He said the airport will need to investigate. He didn't say where the item was ultimately found.
Eight flights were delayed, and 10 people missed their flights, Cooley said. No one was detained or questioned, he said.
He said the device isn't dangerous but that airport police and the Transportation Security Administration decided to evacuate the terminal "in an overabundance of caution."
The airport's police chief, Ciro Dominguez, said this has never happened before.
"We did err," he said. "It was a training error, and in the best interest of the community and our passengers, we followed protocol."
Tina Valdez, 43, said she was getting ready to board a flight home to Albuquerque when she heard the announcement to move toward the entrance.
Valdez said she wasn't nervous until she noticed employees in nearby restaurants rushing to shut the front gates. "They were hustling," she said.
"They didn't say anything. They just said clear the terminals, and we cleared the terminals."
Another passenger, 45-year-old Gerald Mullikin, of Tampa, said that on his way out, he noticed TSA officials looking through terminal restaurant refrigerators.
He wasn't scared, but said he was dreading another wait in the long security line. "They're herding them like cattle."
Times staff writer Kim Wilmath contributed to this report. Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3433.