Skull stops SLC airport’s baggage screening

The owner told TSA it was a medical training device.

SALT LAKE CITY – The checked baggage screening system at Salt Lake City International Airport was stopped for nearly two hours last month after the Transportation Security Administration discovered a uniquely suspicious item in a traveler’s bag.

According to a statement from the TSA, an explosive detection unit flagged an item inside a piece of checked luggage as a potential security threat on Sept. 18 at approximately 8 a.m.

After reviewing the X-ray image of the checked bag, TRA officers discovered what looked to be a skull with “unidentifiable components” inside that the officers believed resembled an improvised explosive device.

The item was made up of a plastic skull, putty, a nine-volt battery and a sensor.

The owner of the item told TSA that it was a medical training device.

This skull was confiscated from a traveler at the Salt Lake City International Airport on Sept. 18, 2023. Photo: Transportation Security Administration

“[The item] is a medical training device for spine and neurosurgeons and can be used to instruct them on how to conduct a lobotomy,” said a statement from TSA. “The passenger was transporting the item for display at a trade show in Cancun, Mexico.”

TSA did not allow the item to travel on a commercial aircraft, and retained the item to be returned to the traveler when he returns to Salt Lake City.

“This incident and subsequent response is an example of how TSA must take every potential security threat seriously while making sure that the transportation system is not put at risk,” said Matt Davis, TSA federal security director for Utah. “I was pleased at the professionalism of everyone involved who worked closely to fully resolve the matter, to ensure that security was not compromised and to resume operations as quickly possible.”

If you are traveling with a highly unusual item that could be flagged as a potential security threat, TSA recommends you contact a TSA supervisor or manager when you arrive at the airport. You can reach the TSA at the TSA Contact Center here prior to traveling.

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