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Man slips through security at Japan's Narita airport, drives van on aircraft parking apron

The security gate at the entrance to the aircraft parking apron at Narita International Airport in Narita, Chiba Prefecture, is seen on June 1, 2020. (Mainichi/Tadakazu Nakamura)

NARITA, Chiba -- A 61-year-old man drove his light van around the aircraft parking apron and other restricted areas at Narita International Airport for about 20 minutes in the wee hours of June 1.

According to Narita International Airport Corp. (NAA), which operates the major air hub east of Tokyo, at about 12:45 a.m. the man managed to slip through security at the entrances to both a freight area and the aircraft apron. He then went on a some 5.4-kilometer ride through the restricted zones, posing a potentially severe safety risk. NAA is treating the breach as "a very alarming incident" and has pledged to investigate.

The gate to the apron is kept closed by default, and security guards check whether drivers have the proper entry permits. They also check the identification of any passengers, and examine the vehicles themselves for explosives.

In the June 1 incident, the man appears to have used taxi lanes and gaps for outgoing vehicles to get through the security points. When driving on the aircraft apron, he apparently got as close as around 200 meters from the taxiways and 500 meters from the airport's runways. He also came within about 10 meters of some of the 21 passenger aircraft parked on the apron.

The suspect stopped his van at the entrance to the freight area and was apprehended by security, who then handed him off to the Chiba Prefectural Police's Narita International Airport station. Officers have questioned him on suspicion of trespassing.

"I didn't know I wasn't allowed into those places. I just followed the vehicle in front of me and went in," he was quoted as telling police.

Passenger numbers at Narita airport have plummeted due to the novel coronavirus pandemic. The airport has closed its "B" runway and other parts of the facility, and has also shrunk its security operations due to the reduced need. However, an NAA representative stated, "This incident should have been avoided if all procedures had been followed correctly. The reduction in overall security operations is unrelated."

A vehicle has breached the airport perimeter once before, in 1996. In October 2019, a passenger got onto the aircraft parking apron and ran for about 350 meters before being subdued.

(Japanese original by Tadakazu Nakamura, Narita Bureau, and Seiho Akimaru, Chiba Bureau)

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