By Brock N. Meeks Chief Washington correspondent
msnbc.com
updated 5/3/2004 8:15:52 PM ET 2004-05-04T00:15:52

An airline employee found a loaded 9mm handgun Monday lodged between the seats of a Continental Airlines flight after it landed at Newark airport, MSNBC.com has learned.

The plane departed from Reagan National Airport Monday morning; Reagan National is the airport most used by Washington dignitaries due to its proximity to the Capitol. 

The FBI was called in to investigate and determined the weapon, a 9mm Sig-Sauer, belonged to U.S. Secret Service agent, a source familiar with the investigation told MSNBC.com. The agent declared his carry-on weapon at Reagan before boarding and was the only armed agent on board, according to a federal security employee who asked to remain anonymous.

The disturbing incident is apparently not unique. “This is not the first time this has happened,” said an administration official while confirming the incident to NBC News. “There have been one or two other occasions where federal agents have left their firearms on board planes,” the administration official said, though he couldn’t name which agencies the officers worked for.

The administration official also noted that a federal air marshal recently left his weapon in an airport restroom.  Another recent incident involved a commercial airline pilot who was qualified to carry a gun in the cockpit under the new Federal Flight Deck Officer Program.  During a shuttle ride from the aircraft the pilot left the gun — which was inside a lockbox — behind on the shuttle.  Another pilot recognized the lockbox and retrieved it, according to a federal security employee.

In other incidents, federal officers have dropped live ammunition on board airplanes, said the administration official.  “In each and every case appropriate disciplinary action was taken and will be again in this case,” the official said.

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