TSA officer to passenger: “Is there anything sharp, pointed or fragile in your bag?”
That wasn’t quite the right answer when a passenger came through the TSA checkpoint at southern Alaska’s King Salmon Airport (AKN).
Lead TSA Officer Cathy Stiles was on X-ray when she saw the image of a very cluttered bag.
“Toward the bottom (of the bag) was an area of concern,” said Stiles. “It was very dark. However, I saw one small area that looked like it could be a pocket knife. I annotated the area and pulled the bag for search.”
Oran Caudle was the TSA property search officer at the time. Following standard operating procedures, Caudle asked the passenger if the bag contained anything sharp, pointed or fragile. After the man said there wasn’t anything sharp inside his carry-on, Caudle took a look … and to his amazement found not one, not two, not three, but 28 knives!
“As I opened the bag, I began to see several objects, little boxes, appearing from behind a canvas cover,” recalled Caudle. “I carefully pulled out one box, which had a knife inside. I checked the next box, and it also had a knife inside. I began pulling out knife boxes and some knives that were not in boxes.”
The passenger told Caudle, “That is my knife collection; can’t I take those with me on the plane?”
Unfortunately, the man didn’t have enough time to put his knife collection in his checked bag before his Alaska Airlines flight took off, so he frustratingly told Caudle, “I guess I’ll have to let them go (voluntarily abandon his knives to TSA).”
“This was one of the most unusual searches I had ever conducted,” said Caudle, who will celebrate his fourth anniversary with TSA in March 2023. “I had never seen anything like this, and certainly not a situation in which the passenger admitted being aware of the items in their bag.”
Stiles, who joined TSA in December 2020, said in Alaska it’s not unusual for passengers to accidentally leave knives in their carry-on bags.
“We have a lot of hunters, commercial fishermen, cannery workers and laborers who fly in and out on a regular basis, and they just forget they have that one pocket knife or Leatherman in the bottom of their bag,” she said. “After I screened my last passenger, I went over to (Caudle) who had a pile of knives sitting on the table. He turned and looked at me as he pulled more out. I was shocked by the quantity.”
Caudle’s previous record catch was three knives in one carry-on. He was surprised by the passenger’s behavior during the bag search.
“By the passenger’s own admission, he knew he had his ‘knife collection’ with him and didn’t see a problem with that,” said Caudle. “I am still puzzled by him responding ‘no’ when I asked if there was anything sharp or pointed in his bag.”
AKN TSA Manager Rebecca McKinley said she’s never seen a passenger try to carry 28 knives onto a plane and credited Stiles and Caudle for doing “an outstanding job identifying and finding this huge knife catch.”
“(Officers) Stiles and Caudle excel at teamwork,” McKinley assessed. “They are both dedicated to the mission, the team and the community they live in. They communicate and rely on each other and the team to ensure every passenger and bag is cleared to fly.
“They take great pride in what they do. I couldn’t be prouder of (Officers) Cathy Stiles and Oran Caudle and Team AKN.”
Acting Alaska TSA Assistant Federal Security Director Charles Johnston II called this “a perfect example of the great work done by our teams in remote Alaska.”
“(Officer) Stiles and Team AKN did a fantastic job, especially during the off-season when we wouldn’t expect something like this coming through the checkpoint,” said Johnston. “Great job, Cathy, remaining focused on the mission during the slow time of the year.”
“This incident shows exactly why TSA is so vital to the safety and security of transportation,” Caudle noted. “The United States does not want people to carry items that can harm us on airplanes. It is the teamwork of TSA, including at AKN, that makes it possible for us to fulfill the mission the American people have entrusted us with to keep them safe.”
By Don Wagner, TSA Strategic Communications & Public Affairs