Serial stowaway strikes again

KATIE NELSON AND ERIN IVIE
Last updated 09:01 07/08/2014

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A notorious 62-year-old stowaway who was arrested six times trying to sneak onto flights at San Francisco International Airport, US, has managed to fly from Mineta San Jose International Airport to Los Angeles without a ticket.

This marks the second significant security breach at the US airport in the past four months.

Marilyn Jean Hartman was arrested late Monday at Los Angeles Interational Airport (LAX) after she sneaked past security at the San Jose airport and onto a Southwest Airlines flight to Los Angeles.

Hartman had made it onto a plane at least once in her attempts at San Francisco International Airport but was caught and arrested before the plane took off.

In April, a 15-year-old boy climbed a security fence onto the tarmac at the airport, stowed away in the wheel well of a Maui-bound airplane and miraculously survived the high altitude and near-freezing temperatures during the 5½-hour flight.

Despite the security concerns raised by the two stowaways, airport spokeswoman Rosemary Barnes declared emphatically that the two are "very separate incidents."

"I do not have details on how this all happened. I can say that this incident and the (April) stowaway incident are completely unrelated," Barnes said. "(The Transportation Security Administration) and Southwest are reviewing how she was able to get on board the flight."

A source familiar with the incident said that Hartman tried three times to get around TSA agents screening boarding passes before she was able to slip past while a family was having their tickets checked. She did still go through the security screening devices that check for weapons and explosives, the source said.

Once inside Terminal B, she unsuccessfully attempted to board several planes before finally sneaking past a Southwest gate agent and boarding the plane to Los Angeles.

Once the plane landed at LAX, the source said, airline employees did a head count for those remaining on board who were heading to Phoenix, Arizona. When that count revealed there was one more person than expected, each passenger was asked to show proof of their boarding pass for that flight; Hartman did not have a pass and was removed from the flight and arrested.

A spokesman for Southwest Airlines said the carrier was working with authorities and conducting its own internal investigation into the incident.

Hartman was placed on probation February 27 after being arrested for attempting to board three Hawaii-bound flights departing SFO on February 15, 18 and 20, prosecutors said.

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Though Hartman was not caught trying to sneak onto a plane in three of her six arrests, she continued to return to SFO despite her probation, restraining order and repeated arrests.

On her first arrest, she made it all the way through security and was found sitting in a ticketed passenger's seat, officials said.

On her second and third attempts, she was caught trying to get through the TSA line.

Authorities arrested her over the next two months in the baggage claim, food court and an airport bathroom, said San Mateo County Sheriff's spokeswoman Rebecca Rosenblatt. Each time, she had no ticket to fly and told investigators she had nowhere else to go.

In May, Hartman was determined to be suffering from a "major mental illness" and deemed a suitable candidate for the residential mental health program, prosecutors said. She was sentenced to two years supervised probation and will remain under strict supervision in the program for the next two years.

Hartman was transferred immediately to the Pathways Program at the Redwood House Mental Health Facility from her May 26 sentencing. It was not immediately known what level of treatment she had completed or if she had been required to stay at the facility as a condition of her sentence.

Congressman Eric Swalwell spoke out about the incident, noting that passengers' safety in the sky is reliant upon effective security on the ground and that only ticketed and screened passengers should ever be allowed on an airplane.

"Yesterday's incident of an unticketed passenger successfully taking a flight from San Jose to Los Angeles was an apparent failure by both airport security and the airline of protecting passengers from a potential threat to their safety," Swalwell said. "People want to be assured when they fly that only screened and ticketed passengers are on their flight.

"(Hartman) is a known plane hopper," he added. "She is someone that airport officials should be looking for. I don't think we need to spend more money to be a little bit smarter about how we go through security. It needs to be one person at a time, one boarding pass at a time."

San Mateo County District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe said in May that Hartman continually attributed her desire to fly someplace warm to unsubstantiated claims she had cancer. It was not immediately known whether Hartman was continuing her quest to go to Hawaii when she landed at LAX.

"This engenders in me a certain level of sympathy," Wagstaffe said in May. "Locking her up is not the answer. Our goal here is to find a place other than the airport where she can find what she's looking for."

In the wake of her six failed attempts to get to Hawaii, multiple crowdfunding sites cropped up on the Internet with the goal of sending Hartman to Hawaii with a valid ticket. As of Tuesday, a GoFundMe account created in March 2014 had raised US$1,290 (NZ$1522) from 49 donors.

Hartman faces misdemeanour trespassing charges and is being held on US$500 bail, according to Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department arrest records.

Contra Costa Times/MCT

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