Three hurt as gun goes off by accident at busy US airport

Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport was briefly closed, days before Thanksgiving holiday

Three people suffered injuries when a gun accidentally went off after being discovered at an X-ray checkpoint at Atlanta's international airport on Saturday, Reuters reported.

Dozens of passengers went scurrying for cover and the busy Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport was briefly closed, just days before the Thanksgiving holiday in the US. Some two hours later, officials gave an “all-clear” and flights resumed, the airport said on Twitter.

The episode highlights the highly politicised topic of gun prevalence in American society.

Authorities searched for the owner of the gun, who fled after his weapon fired. An arrest warrant was issued for the 42-year-old, named by police as Kenny Wells.

He was being sought on charges of carrying a concealed weapon at a commercial airport, possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, discharging a firearm and reckless conduct, Atlanta Police Major Reginald Moorman said.

The gun discharge occurred when a screening checkpoint employee was conducting a bag search “due to a prohibited item identified by the X-ray,” the TSA said.

“He advised the passenger not to touch the property, and as he opened the compartment containing the prohibited item, the passenger lunged into the bag and grabbed a firearm, at which point it discharged,” the TSA said.

Immediate fear that an active shooter had opened fire panicked the crowd, which rushed out of the terminal on to the tarmac.

“More and more people started running — there was screaming,” said traveller Erika Zeidler, who sent photographs to CNN showing dozens of people scrambling on to the tarmac, some pulling suitcases.

Police said one person requested emergency medical help after experiencing a fall “in the atrium of the airport, which is not in the same area of the security check point, and two others complained of a shortness of breath".

Hartsfield-Jackson was the world's busiest airport in 2021, according to aviation analytics provider Official Airline Guide.

The Atlanta airport was expected to be particularly busy during the Thanksgiving travel period, with pre-pandemic-size crowds expected at security checkpoints from Friday, November 19 through Sunday, November 28, the Transportation Security Administration said.

A record number of firearms were seized at US airport checkpoints in just the first nine months of 2021, the agency said.

Nationwide, the agency's officers have stopped 4,495 airline passengers from carrying firearms on to their flights, surpassing the 4,432 firearms caught throughout 2019.

In Atlanta alone, there were 450 firearms detected at airport checkpoints in 2021.

Updated: November 21st 2021, 1:30 PM