Dozens of intruders have breached California airport fences

AP Photo/Chris CarlsonIn this Friday

AP Photo/Chris CarlsonIn this Friday

The teenage stowaway who flew in the wheel well of a jet from San Jose to Hawaii last spring is far from the only person who got past the security fences that protect California's busiest airports.

There have been at least 82 incidents in which people reached the airfields of the international airports serving San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Jose and San Diego between January 2004 and January 2015, according to an Associated Press investigation.

Nationally, there have been at least 268 perimeter security breaches at 31 major U.S. airports, AP found. Some involved fence-jumpers taking shortcuts or looking to hop flights, others intoxicated drivers crashing through barriers. None was deemed terrorism-related.

Airports say breaches are relatively rare. Security measures typically include fences, surveillance cameras and patrols, but there are gaps. Not all of the miles of fences are routinely patrolled or covered by video surveillance.

San Francisco International had the most breaches in the analysis, with 37; Los Angeles International ranked third nationally, with 24; San Jose was fifth with 18; San Diego reported three.

At a news conference called Thursday in response to AP's findings, the San Francisco airport spokesman said his facility had the most breaches because it disclosed everything, whether the breach was intentional or accidental. Spokesman Doug Yakel said the airport has beefed up security and that while its airfield is safe, “The goal is always zero” breaches.

Security upgrades have included more patrols, better lighting and the installation of cameras that can detect body heat at night.

“Perimeter security is very important to our airport. We take this obligation very seriously. We're very focused on learning from every single incident. That's why no matter how innocuous or inadvertent a perimeter has been, we've taken action,” Yakel said.

Yakel also revealed new details about breaches at his airport — in the records that San Francisco International provided to AP under records act requests, many details were deleted by federal officials who reviewed the documents for sensitive security concerns.

In two of the incidents, people made it onto jets at the airport. About half of the incidents involved homeless or transients. A handful involved boaters in distress or windsurfers who veered too close to the airport's waterfront perimeter.

U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., said that since the San Jose stowaway last April, she's been asking the Transportation Security Administration and airport officials to “work together and resolve this alarming situation,” adding, “Enough is enough, let's get it done.”

While Yahya Abdi — the boy who last April survived the Maui flight — may be California's most famous airport intruder, he is not the most prolific.

Eight times between April 2012 and March 2013, a mentally ill homeless man named Christopher McGrath got over the chain links that separate the public from the planes at Los Angeles International. Once he hid for hours before being discovered.

Twice he reached the stairs leading to a jet parked at a terminal — his goal to persuade pilots to give him a ride to Australia, New Zealand or Hawaii, where he wanted to start a new life.

“I'd suggest LAX do a better job with putting up security fences,” McGrath wrote in an email from federal prison, where he is being treated after a judge found him not guilty by reason of insanity on federal charges.

LAX Police Chief Patrick Gannon said McGrath was helpful in the sense he exposed vulnerabilities that the airport has since fixed.

“He went over barbed wire that if you and I tried to get over, you'd be sliced and diced. But for some reason or another in his state, he was able to get over,” Gannon said. “He seemed to be like a cat, he could fall and land on his feet and not be injured.”

Bay Area NewsSan Francisco International AirportSecurity breachTransittransportation

Just Posted

Cabernet sauvignon grapes sat in a container after being crushed at Smith-Madrone Winery in St. Helena. (Courtesy Smith-Madrone Winery)
San Francisco’s ‘Champagne problems’ — Wine industry suffers supply chain woes

‘Everywhere you turn, things that were easy are no longer easy’

Glasses behind the bar at LUNA in the Mission District on Friday, Oct. 15, 2021. Glassware is just one of the many things restaurants have had trouble keeping in stock as supply chain problems ripple outward. (Kevin N. Hume/The Examiner)
SF restaurants face product shortages and skyrocketing costs

‘The supply chain crisis has impacted us in almost every way imaginable’

A Giants fans hangs his head in disbelief after the Dodgers won the NLDS in a controversial finish to a tight Game 5. (Chris Victorio/Special to The Examiner)
Giants dream season ends at the hands of the Dodgers, 2-1

A masterful game comes down to the bottom of the ninth, and San Francisco came up short

<strong>Workers with Urban Alchemy and the Downtown Streets Team clean at Seventh and Market streets on Oct. 12. <ins>(Kevin N. Hume/The Examiner)</ins> </strong>
<ins></ins>
Why is it so hard to keep San Francisco’s streets clean?

Some blame bureaucracy, others say it’s the residents’ fault

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi — seen in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday — touted Congressional Democrats’ infrastructure bill in San Francisco on Thursday. (Stefani Reynolds/The New York Times)
Pelosi touts infrastructure bill as it nears finish line

Climate change, social safety net among major priorities of Democrats’ 10-year funding measure

Most Read