Security breach turns back Air Canada flight to Brazil

Watch above: Police and transport officials are saying little after a man boarded a flight to Brazil without being screened by security. Sean O’Shea reports

An Air Canada flight from Toronto to Sao Paulo, Brazil turned back to Toronto’s Pearson International Airport early Thursday morning after it was discovered one male passenger had not been properly screened. But the Greater Toronto Airport Authority (GTAA) isn’t disclosing how the security breach occurred.

“The GTAA takes all issues related to airport security very seriously, and as is routine, will complete an internal assessment,” said a statement issued Thursday. “In the interim, enhanced security measures have been put in place. Given the incident involves airport security, we cannot share specific details.”
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The statement said the breach occurred at approximately 10:25 p.m., and offered apologies to inconvenienced passengers.

“The aircraft took off normally last night at 11:30 [p.m.] without knowing that one passenger, it was later suspected, had boarded without being properly screened,” said Air Canada spokesperson Peter Fitzpatrick, who said the customer had the correct travel documents, including a boarding pass.

“En route, with the aircraft already in the air for four hours, we were notified of this and ordered by Transport Canada to have the aircraft return to Toronto,” Fitzpatrick said. The identity of the male in question hasn’t been disclosed by authorities.

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Sao Paulo is one of the host cities for the 2014 FIFA World Cup being played now until the middle of July.

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Flight AC090 landed back at Pearson at 6:30 a.m. on Thursday, when Peel police were called to help by the Greater Toronto Airport Authority (GTAA).

“Peel police assisted in identifying and locating that individual who was on a flight that was returned to Terminal 1,” said Duty Officer George Tudos.

“We interviewed that party and as a result there is no criminality involved, so as far as our role is, we’re finished.”

A Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) spokesperson confirmed CBSA assisted with the return flight by “attending the aircraft and facilitating the entry of the airline crew,” but had no other information on the passenger’s documentation or the security breach, since he was leaving the country. (CBSA deals with incoming flights).

Tudos said nothing suspicious was found in the bags of the person question.

TMS debates: Should the Air Canada flight have turned around four hours in?

Senior industry analyst with Frost & Sullivan’s Aerospace and Defense Practice John Hernandez believes the incident was a “rare combination of events where an individual unknowingly bypassed the screening process,” but couldn’t guess as to how much money was lost for ordering the return of the aircraft.

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“It could have just been very innocent, but be that as they may, the whole world knows now that someone got through without being detected,” he told Global News.

“I believe in this case, the GTAA made a well-thought-out decision to have the plane return to base—considering it was destined for Sao Paulo, where a world event is ongoing and possible terrorist target for anyone having that intent.”

Passengers posted photos of the incident as it happened:

Chantal Vallee / Twitter
Olivier Cullen / Twitter

Airport lockdown

Operations at Pearson went back to normal Thursday after the security breach resulted in a lockdown of much of the airport and the delay of domestic departures Wednesday night.

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Passengers that recently landed at the airport were forced to stay in their planes for some time. All departing international flights from the terminal were suspended while police conducted the search.

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Editor’s note: This article has been corrected to reflect Peter Fitzpatrick is a spokesperson for Air Canada, not a spokesperson for the Greater Toronto Airport Authority (GTAA).

With files from Global News reporters Justin McElroy and Erica Vella

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