The unattended box that halted flights at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport during the busy holiday travel season last week didn’t contain a propane tank as authorities originally contended.
Jesus de la Torres, whose wife, Martha P. Morocho, 35, of Minneapolis, was cited for a misdemeanor when she left the box unattended after failing to get it through a security checkpoint Friday, said Wednesday that the package contained nothing more than a metal grill and hoses for a propane tank.
Informed of the family’s contention, an airport spokesman acknowledged Wednesday afternoon that there was no propane tank in the box.
Travel at Terminal 2 was disrupted for about two hours while police dealt with the box. Airport officials said it contained protruding hoses and a propane tank, which turned out to be empty.
“Ultimately, the box did not contain a propane tank — only a propane burner and stand,” airport spokesman Patrick Hogan said Wednesday.
But Hogan defended the response of police and placed responsibility for the airport disruption with Morocho.
“All we knew that morning was that we had a … box with a hole cut into the top and a metal pipe and hose sticking out,” he said. “From our limited view of the part of the pipe sticking out of the box, it resembled piping used with propane, which in fact is exactly what it was. There was no way to know whether it was attached to a propane tank until we evacuated the area and had the bomb squad investigate.”
Hogan said Morocho’s decision to abandon a “very suspicious-looking box and get on an airplane headed out of state was ample reason for concern. The result was hundreds of people’s flights being delayed. That could all have been avoided if she’d obeyed the ordinance and not abandoned the box.”
De la Torres said his wife was traveling to New York with her two daughters, ages 9 and 14, and a 25-year-old cousin. Morocho was bringing the grill to her mother.
When she tried to check the box as luggage, De la Torres continued, airline officials told her no “because it wasn’t sealed enough.”
She decided to throw out the box but couldn’t find a receptacle large enough, her husband continued, so she left it next to a trash bin, called De la Torres to come and get it, and then boarded her flight.
De la Torres said he showed up and tried to explain to the officers what was in the box. He called his wife, who was still on the plane, and told her what was going on.
Police removed Morocho from the airliner, and the rest of her travel party remained on the flight.
“They handcuffed my wife in front of her two daughters,” De la Torres said. “They were crying.”
De la Torres said he was questioned by authorities for two hours before he was told he was “free to go.”