KALAELOA, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) – A mentally unstable woman drove her car through the fence and into the runway area at Kalaeloa Airport last month, raising questions about security at the facility that is used by the Air Force, Air National Guard, Coast Guard and general aviation aircraft.
The incident happened shortly after 9 p.m. Aug. 7, according to spokespeople for the state Transportation and Public Safety departments.
Christine Keliikuli, 62, went up to the security desk at the Kalaeloa control tower building and asked if she could get onto the airfield to see the airplanes, said Caroline Sluyter, a spokeswoman for the Department of Transportation, whose airports division oversees operations and security there.
Sluyter said when a security guard denied Keliikuli access, she got into her white Jeep SUV and rammed her vehicle through the fence line, bending the pole that usually locks two tall chain-link gates in place.
The woman started driving in the direction of an Air Force C-17 jet that was taxiing on the Kalaeloa taxiway. A private security guard from the company Securitas got into his security truck and chased her down, using his truck to block her vehicle from driving toward the jet, according to Toni Schwartz, a spokeswoman for the state Public Safety Department, whose sheriffs division handled the arrest in the case.
Keliikuli stopped, got out of her car and lit a cigarette, according to a sheriff's division report of the incident. She was arrested and officers said she appeared to be mentally unbalanced, because she was talking to herself.
Keliikuli was charged with trespassing, criminal property damage and driving without a license. She posted bail and was released, Schwartz said. She posted bail, which was less than $100.
"This had the potential of being a very dangerous, devastating situation, had there been more airplanes moving around or had she gotten closer to certain areas," said State Sen. Will Espero (D-Ewa), who chairs the Public Safety, Government Operations and Military Affairs Committee and vice-chairs the Transportation Committee.
While Espero believes Hawaii's airports are safe and secure, he said the incident "has given us reason to look at our airport security and see where we can improve it."
"We do have very safe airports. But one breach is all it takes for us to do a total review of the system," he added.
DOT spokeswoman Sluyter said, "We reviewed the incident and found the guard followed proper procedure," Sluyter said.
No wider review of security measures has been undertaken by the state DOT because Sluyter said it was an "isolated incident by a woman who might have had some issues."
Sluyter said there are two private security guards at Kalaeloa airport 24 hours a day. The facility is surrounded by a chain-link fence and has several locked gates which offer direct access to hangars, taxiways and runways.
No one was injured and no aircraft were damaged. The state DOT replaced a metal bar from the gate that the woman ran over in the incident, officials said.
The C-17 aircraft was conducting night training operations with Hawaii Air National Guard personnel on board, said a source familiar with the event The C-17s housed at Kalaeloa are jointly operated and maintained by active duty Air Force and Hawaii Air National Guard personnel.
A Securitas security guard called 911 immediately after the incident, and Honolulu police arrived at the scene but could not arrest the woman because the incident happened on state airports property where state sheriff's deputies had jurisdiction, a source said.
Another source familiar with the incident said there was further jurisdictional confusion and someone called the Federal Aviation Administration, since the incident happened at an airport. But the FAA said sheriffs needed to handle the incident.
Schwartz said a sheriff's deputy was dispatched to the scene at 9:40 p.m. and arrived at Kalaeloa at 10:04 p.m., about 25 minutes later, according to a sheriff's report of the incident.
"I feel that that's a little long," Espero said. "Although we did have the Securitas security on site, I'd like to see the time between when the sheriff's official gets to the airport, that that may be closer to 10 minutes or less."
"We send routine patrols at various times [to Kalaeloa] but Securitas [the private security guard company] is actually stationed" at the airfield, Schwartz, the public safety spokeswoman said. "When law enforcement is needed, we respond."
A source familiar with the incident said, "She could have caused a lot of damage to the plane," noting the C-17 aircraft costs more than $200 million. The slightest damage could cost tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars to repair, the source said. Even a slow-motion crash into the plane could have caused one of the engines to shred pieces of the car, scattering metal, potentially injuring anyone in the plane or on the ground nearby, the source said.
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