Guns, swords, grenades: busy year for air passenger seizures

WASHINGTON (AFP) - It's a given that bringing a loaded firearm onto a US plane is illegal. But that did not stop 1,477 people from trying to do just that last year, officials said on Friday.

Passengers also sought to sneak grenades, inert explosives, tear gas, cane-swords and even a medieval mace onto flights, all part of the varied weaponry detected at airport checkpoints by the Transportation Security Administration in 2013.

TSA said agents seized 1,813 guns, 1,477 of them loaded, from checkpoints at 205 airports last year, thanks to the use of metal detectors and advanced imaging technology.

That marks a 16.5-per cent increase in firearm seizures from 2012.

Nearly 639 million passengers were screened in 2013, about 1.1 million more than the previous year.

Atlanta, the world's busiest airport in terms of passenger traffic, led the way with 111 weapons intercepted in 2013.

TSA revealed the data in a blog post, with images of various weaponry and non-functioning explosives such as an inert Claymore mine or gag gifts resembling live grenades or improvised explosive devices, that passengers sought to bring aboard commercial flights.

"The problem with these types of items is that we don't know if they are real, toys or replicas until we call out the explosive experts," TSA said on its blog.

The list of intercepted items is long: a fake suicide vest used by an explosives instructor as a training aid; a live blasting cap and fuse lighter; a shotgun discovered in a checked golf bag; an inert Bazooka round; and a stun gun designed to look like lipstick.

One passenger who opted out of standard screening at the Pittsburgh airport, but underwent a security pat-down, was found to have a loaded .45-caliber pistol strapped to his ankle.

TSA also published a mosaic of photographs showing the grenades seized from passengers - 136 in total.

Several passengers showed ingenuity in their efforts to conceal daggers, swords, machetes, pocket knives, throwing stars and other blades.

Officials discovered several sabers concealed inside canes, a comb-knife, a non-metallic dagger hidden under a passenger's shirt, and a so-called credit-card knife.

Less dangerous but equally intriguing: Agents discovered large fragments of a human skull in checked bag in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.