Chemical Sparks Airport Security Alert

13 May 2011, 14:19

A Polish car cleaner who decided to take a chemical he used on car wheels back home to Gdansk caused a major security alert at an airport when it began to leak from his holdall in the baggage area.

Two baggage handlers became overcome by the fumes, the fire brigade evacuated the area and no bags could be checked in for four hours at London Luton airport on July 23 last year, causing flight tailbacks. Airlines had to pay compensation to frustrated travellers.

But a Professor of Chemistry said that if the substance - concentrated liquid hydrochloric acid - had leaked in the aircraft hold it would not have burnt through the structure of the plane.

Dariusz Tkaczyk, 21, pleaded guilty at Luton Crown Court to recklessly acting in a manner likely to endanger an aircraft. Today (Friday May 13th) he was spared an immediate prison sentence.

Judge Jeffrey Burke QC told him: "Because of your enormous remorse and distress I do not intend to send you to prison.

"You seem to have acted at a great height of stupidity and naivety, but this was reckless and not deliberate. However thousands of people were inconvenienced and the cost is incalculable.

"It is said it would have been unlikely to cause damage to the structure of the aircraft but if it leaked and smoke and fumes escaped the effect might have been very significant."

Tkaczyk, from Hamber Way, Slough, was given a six month sentence suspended for 18 months with 200 hours unpaid work and £1,000 costs.

The court heard he had taken the chemical in a five litre plastic container. It was the first time he had flown out of an English airport and he spoke very little English.

But the Judge said that at the check in desk he was asked the usual security questions and given a copy in Polish and
shown the picture chart, but he said the bag was okay.

Because the holdall was oversized it did not go onto the belt but was taken to another drop off point. The liquid began leaking before the bag was loaded onto the Wizzair flight.

Judge Burke said: "The floor in the baggage area where the bag was standing began to bubble up. As a result of the fumes two baggage handlers were having trouble breathing, they were coughing and their eyes were stinging and itching. They were attended by paramedics wearing breathing apparatus"

He told Tkaczyk: "Why you did not react to the questions at check in I do not understand. It is said that you were very nervous of flying and you had not realised it was dangerous."

Kevin Molloy, defending said "This is a rather unique case. He is absolutely terrified and his remorse is absolutely genuine. He is completely overwhelmed by the enormity of the situation and repeatedly apologises for the inconvenience and distress he caused.

"He has a large family in Poland and sends money home every month. He was going back to encourage his younger brothers to get work. He wanted to show them that if you put this liquid on car wheels they come up like new."

Tkaczyk's employer Robert Jones, who runs Charles of Windsor car dealers told the court that the defendant and his brother were "the best employees he had ever had".

He said: "They are fantastic workers, they work seven days a week and never say no to anything. They are like sons to me.

"He has been totally distraught, he has been in tears every day. He had no idea the chemical was so dangerous."

Defence barrister Mr. Molloy said Tkaczyk was also suffering from a potentially serious heart condition and was waiting to see a specialist.