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Alaska caribou hunter is livid after airport security damages meat
U.S. Transportation Security Administration is investigating

Anchorage Daily News

(Published: May 31, 2003)

David Williams says his packaged caribou meat was cut open and damaged by airport security personnel.

Caribou hunter David Williams arrived home in Houston, Texas, from an Alaska adventure in March to find a nasty surprise from the U.S. Transportation Security Administration.

When Williams cut open the strapping tape holding shut the first of two wet-lock boxes full of carefully handled, carefully packaged caribou roasts, steaks and burger, he found inside a mess and a preprinted form from the TSA informing him his airline baggage had been "inspected.''

The inspection, in this case, involved slicing open 45 packages of caribou double-wrapped in freezer paper and marked "roast,'' "backstrap'' and "caribou hamburger.''

Two months later, Williams is still mad about it.

"This baggage inspection was not done in my presence,'' he said. "Therefore I don't know if the meat was stacked on the floor during the 'prohibited item search.' Was any of it swabbed by chemicals for explosive detection? Did any bomb-sniffing dogs lick the caribou meat? Did the TSA inspectors wear new, previously unused rubber latex gloves while handling our tenderloins, or had they just finished handling someone's dirty underwear?

''The value of this caribou meat is about $28 per pound, and we are afraid to eat it. Would you eat it?''

Appeals to the airlines that hauled the meat brought no response, Williams added. They said it's not their fault.

And the Houston hunter, a former Alaska lodge owner, has had trouble getting any response out of the TSA.

TSA Alaska director Ken Jarman on Friday said he had only recently heard about what happened and begun investigating. He is, he added, determined to get to the bottom of the incident. He said he was almost as shocked as Williams at what happened.

"I'm a hunter and fisherman, too,'' Jarman said.

Cutting open packaged game meat or fish is against both TSA policy and procedure, he added.

Baggage inspectors on the X-ray line in Anchorage aren't even allowed to slice packages open if the alarm goes off on a bag there, he said. And in Kenai, where there is no X-ray, baggage checkers hand-inspecting bags are supposed to pass fish and game meat -- not cut it up.

"I feel badly about this,'' Jarman said. "It is under investigation. We are looking into it.''

He also offered assurances to the many anglers now beginning to ship fish south from Alaska that they shouldn't have to worry about the sort of bad experience endured by Williams, who has cooled down somewhat from the day he opened the first meat box in his garage.

"I opened the first box, and that was the first time I knew anything because they had retaped the box,'' he said. "I was irate. I was glad I couldn't get a hold of somebody when I opened that box. I had to cool down before I did anything I was so upset.''

Williams suspects the meat-slashing took place at the Kenai airport, where he first boarded a commercial flight upon returning from a caribou hunt in the Iliamna area. He was participating in a special winter hunt the state Board of Game established several years ago to try to trim the growing Mulchatna caribou herd before it overtaxes its range.

Williams said he was glad to have the opportunity.

Going to Alaska to hunt and fish, he said, "is my favorite thing to do. I don't bowl. I don't play golf. We usually go up in June and again in July. I went up early to get a caribou. I hadn't been up in winter in a long time, and we were out of meat.''

Williams said he plans to come back soon to fish, even though the March trip left him angry. Mainly, he said, he wants the government to get the baggage-inspection system fixed in Alaska. He has, he said, shipped meat and fish through major airports across the country and never had a problem like this.

"I'm trying to make a little stink about it,'' Williams admitted. "If nobody says anything, it just gets worse.

"Something needs to be changed so all of that stuff is scanned and not cut open. I have taken meat through the Houston airport and asked that it be scanned, and it has passed perfectly through a scanner.''

Similar scanners, Jarman said, are now being used for everything in Anchorage. And he's trying to get scanners for Kenai. Inspectors there, at the moment, are still hand-inspecting, but they are not supposed to slice anything open.

Williams wonders about that.

"The government doesn't have any customer service,'' he said.

Jarman, however, assured that the TSA in Alaska will try to act like it does.
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