Police investigate if labor unrest is behind LAX dry ice bombs

A still from video shows what was later determined to be a dry ice bomb at Los Angeles International Airport on Monday. KNBC

Police are investigating whether labor unrest resulting from a recent merger between two ground crew companies may be related to the minor explosions of dry ice devices at Los Angeles International Airport the past two nights, according to multiple sources familiar with the investigation. 

The sources, who spoke to NBC News on condition of anonymity, said they were examining labor tensions involving two companies, Swissport International and Servisair, which has been operating at LAX since the 1960s. Swissport announced in August that it planned to acquire Servisair, a move that has frayed nerves among some Servisair employees over the potential for layoffs, pay cuts or loss of benefits as a result of the deal. 

(After this article was published Tuesday, Los Angeles police announced the arrest of Dicarlo Bennett, a 28-year-old Servisair baggage handler from Paramount, Calif., as a suspect in the explosions.)

For a second successive night, a dry ice bomb was found Monday night at LAX, around 8:30 p.m., in a restricted area of the airport tarmac near Gate 148, Terminal 3, formally known as the Tom Bradley International Terminal. Several sources said that the device was found near what appeared to be a Chinese airliner. 

Police originally reported that multiple dry ice bombs were found Monday, but Los Angeles Police Department Deputy Chief Mike Downing said Tuesday that only a single unexploded device was located. 

He also clarified that two separate devices exploded on Sunday night at LAX -- one in an employee bathroom in Terminal 2 and a second next to a jet bridge at Terminal 3. The exploded plastic bottle from the second device was found by an employee, who inadvertently threw it away without immediately notifying supervisors or authorities, he said. Authorities could not say when that device was placed there.


Airport employee arrested in LAX dry ice explosions

Dry ice bombs typically consist of a plastic bottle filled with water and solid carbon dioxide. As the carbon dioxide turns to a gas it expands and causes the bottle to burst, producing a loud popping sound. They are prohibited in California and several other states. 

At a briefing for reporters Tuesday, Los Angeles police Cmdr. Blake Chow emphasized that the devices were all in restricted areas of the airport and posed no threat to the traveling public. 

Nonetheless, airport police said they had added patrols “at all terminals on the airfield ramps and in the public areas (on foot, bikes, in black and whites and with canine teams). The safety and security of the travelling public is our priority and we want to reassure the public that LAX is safe.” 

LAX has seen its share of labor unrest in recent months, including a protest last year in which workers alleged “unsafe working conditions and unfair labor practices.”

In August, Swissport announced that it would acquire Servisair from the French company Derichebourg SA. It said the transaction is expected to close in the fourth quarter of the year, subject to regulatory approval. 

A month earlier, Swissport, which is owned by the private equity firm PAI Partners SAS and operates in 37 countries across five continents, announced it was expanding its business with a number of new U.S. domestic air carriers, including handling ramp services for Virgin America at LAX. 

“With handling agreements at Los Angeles, Anchorage (passenger and ramp) and Boston (ramp), Swissport now operates at three U.S. stations for Virgin America,” it said in a press release. 

Servisair has a long history at LAX: “Servisair has been performing a wide range of services at LAX since 1967 and it employs in excess of 650 employees, servicing 17 national and international scheduled carriers for “below-wing” ramp handling and 18 carriers for Into-Plane fueling services,” according to its website

Servisair issued a statement Wednesday saying, “We are aware of the arrest of Dicarlo Bennett as a suspect in the recent incidents at LAX. All we can confirm at this point is that he was an employee of Servisair at the time of incident. We’re cooperating with authorities and will continue to monitor the situation closely.”

Representatives of Swissport did not return calls seeking comment.

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