Reuters International

Traffic congestion is seen near the LAX sign, as terminals at Los Angeles International Airport were evacuated briefly late on Sunday following a false alarm, in Los Angeles, California, U.S., August 28, 2016. REUTERS/Bob Riha Jr


LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Los Angeles airport police said on Monday they were investigating whether passengers had mistaken loud noises of some kind for gunfire, leading to panicked evacuations the night before at the huge hub of international travel.

Terminals at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) were evacuated briefly and 27 flights were diverted on Sunday night after reports of gunfire that police later determined were incorrect, in the second recent false alarm at a major U.S. airport.

Police at LAX also detained and questioned a man in a Zorro costume, but found no direct connection to the reports of gunfire which began at a different terminal, Officer Robert Pedregon of the airport police said.

The initial report of gunfire at gate 82 in Terminal 8 came in a phone call at 8:45 p.m. PT (0345 GMT) and quickly spread by word of mouth and social media, Pedregon said.

"We are investigating it but we haven't been able to confirm any source of those noises," he said.

The man dressed as Zorro was in the baggage claim area of Terminal 7, he added.

Some passengers fled without an official evacuation and ended up on the airport tarmac, the airport said in a statement. Several terminals were closed while security personnel checked them for anything suspicious.

The central terminal's arrival and departures areas as well as all other terminals re-opened after about two hours.

"Arriving at LAX off flight when people started pouring out of term 4 onto Tarmac. Security said 'shots fired. Run!'" Lester Holt, the anchor of the NBC Nightly News, said on Twitter.

"Witness tells me she heard 'pops' in lax term 4. Others say they just heard 'run!'" he said.

The alert came two months after police temporarily evacuated a terminal at New York City's John F. Kennedy International Airport while they investigated reports of gunfire there, also later determined to be false.

A preliminary investigation of that incident, which also occurred on a Sunday evening, found no evidence of foul play or suspicious activity.

U.S. airport security officials have been on heightened alert in recent months after deadly attacks at international airports in Belgium and Turkey.

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration said on its website that air traffic to LAX was being delayed at the point of departure. By Monday morning, though, delays were down to 15 minutes or less, the website said.

(Reporting by David Ingram and Chris Michaud in New York and Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Writing by David Ingram; Editing by Bernadette Baum)


 Reuters International