A man suspected of breaching security and stealing a vehicle at John Wayne Airport, causing passengers to be evacuated and incoming flights to be held on runways for hours, was in custody today, authorities said.
The suspect was identified as Johnny Hecker, 51, of San Diego, the Orange County Sheriff's Department reported. Hecker was arrested on suspicion of trespassing and vandalism. An airport operations employee contacted a man in a secure area of the airfield where only airport employees should be at approximately 5:30 p.m. Friday, a sheriff's official said.
The man allegedly took control of an airport vehicle and drove it onto the airfield outside Terminal C. He stopped the vehicle near a gate and attempted to access a secure area of the terminal, the official said. The emergency response system was activated and the terminal placed on lockdown and evacuated at approximately 6 p.m. A thorough sweep of the terminal and airfield was conducted, with OCSD air support assisting with the search.
The Orange County Intelligence Assessment Center and Orange County Fire Authority also responded to assist. The suspect was later located in the ceiling on the non-secure side of the terminal and taken into custody without further incident, the official said. Elizabeth Robins, a passenger on a Southwest Airlines flight from Las Vegas, told a reporter her plane landed at 6:30 p.m. and she and her fellow passengers were forced to wait for two hours while deputies searched for the suspect.
"Glad everyone is safe, and for how Southwest flight attendants kept us entertained while we waited,'' Robins, who lives in Washington, D.C., told the Orange County Register. "Airplane staff handled the event well and efficiently.''
Flight operations had resumed by 8:30 p.m. Hecker was booked into Orange County Jail, and the investigation was continuing to determine how the man entered the airfield.