A suspicious item in a traveler’s checked luggage at Salt Lake City International Airport suspended checked baggage screening operations for nearly two hours while the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and its airport partners investigated the potential security threat.
On September 18, 2023, at around 8 a.m., a TSA explosive detection unit flagged an item inside a piece of checked luggage as a potential security threat. TSA officers reviewed the X-ray image on-screen of what appeared to be a skull with unidentifiable components inside. The item resembled an improvised explosive device.
TSA notified the Salt Lake City Police Airport Division who worked with the agency’s explosives specialist to mitigate the immediate threat through the use of an explosive detection canine. They made contact with the passenger who was able to explain what the item was and why he was traveling with it.
The item – a plastic skull, putty, a 9-volt battery and a sensor – is a medical training device for spine and neurosurgeons and can be used to instruct them on how to conduct a lobotomy. The passenger was transporting the item for display at a trade show in Cancun, Mexico.
“This incident and subsequent response is an example of how TSA must take every potential security threat seriously while making sure that the transportation system is not put at risk,” said TSA Federal Security Director for Utah Matt Davis. “I was pleased at the professionalism of everyone involved who worked closely to fully resolve the matter, to ensure that security was not compromised and to resume operations as quickly possible.”
Ultimately, TSA determined the item was not permitted to travel on a commercial aircraft. The item was retained by TSA to be picked up by the traveler upon his return to SLC.
If a passenger is traveling with a highly unusual item that could be flagged as a potential security threat, TSA recommends that the passenger contact a TSA supervisor or manager upon arriving at the airport. This will give TSA a preview of what will be screened and help avoid any potential suspension of screening.