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Would-be bomber’s actions ‘a wake-up call,’ airport worker says

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Saturday, Dec. 14, 2013, at 8:36 p.m.
  • Updated Monday, Feb. 17, 2014, at 8:13 a.m.

Photos

Barry Grissom announces arrest of Terry Lee Loewen

United States attorney Barry Grissom announces the arrest of Terry Lee Loewen on terrorism charges on Friday. Loewen is accused in a plot to blow up Wichita's Mid-Continent Airport in a suicide bomb attack. (Travis Heying/The Wichita Eagle)

Rickey Welch arrived at his job as a sheet metal technician at Yingling Aviation on Friday at his usual time, about 4:20 a.m.

But when he got inside, he was told the hangar bay where he worked was closed for security reasons.

The line service person who told him didn’t know why.

“Maybe somebody important is coming in,” Welch said he first speculated. Pilots of general aviation aircraft from around the country patronize Yingling, located at Wichita Mid-Continent Airport.

It wasn’t until later that he learned that a Hawker Beechcraft Services avionics technician who worked next door, Terry Lee Loewen, had been charged in a planned suicide bombing plot as he attempted to gain airport access through a secure gate.

After he arrived at work, Welch could see through security cameras that the street had been blocked off and unmarked and FBI vehicles had converged on the north side of the building.

In the meantime, he began cleaning another hangar that had remained open.

At about 6 a.m., workers got the OK to go to their departments.

“We went on over to our work area,” Welch said.

Through the north window of his hangar, he saw a van at the secure gate and agents taking photographs and otherwise processing the scene. He did not see Loewen.

The gate where the alleged terror plot unraveled is between Hawker Beechcraft Services, at 1980 Airport Road, and Yingling.

If he had known the suspect could have had explosives, Welch said, he would have left the building. Instead, Loewen was transporting inert explosives and posed no threat, authorities said hours after his 5:40 a.m. arrest.

“You think about the Oklahoma City bombings,” Welch said. “It was one of those scary situations. We get so comfortable with our surroundings. It was a wake-up call.”

That said, Welch believes security is good at the airport.

“We get checked a whole lot,” he said. “I just thank God that nothing happened, and they caught him and we go on and live on.”

In the meantime, Mid-Continent Airport was operating on a normal schedule Saturday. No flights were delayed or canceled because of the Friday incident, said an airport spokeswoman.

Travis Rosel was at the airport Saturday to see his mother off after her visit in Wichita.

“It’s unbelievable that something like that could happen,” Rosel said.

His main concern was whether her flight would be affected.

Rosel said he expected security to be tighter, as it was immediately after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Daniel Collins, who said he works in law enforcement, was flying out of Wichita on Saturday.

From his training, “I’m always on heightened senses when I go anywhere,” Collins said. “I always scan the room and get a feel for who’s in the area.”

He lives in Aurora, Colo., where a gunman entered a movie theater last year and killed 12 people and wounded 70 others.

“It’s sad that we live in a world like that,” Collins said.

People aren’t going to stop going to movies or quit flying because of the fear of attacks, he said.

If you let things like that dictate your life, Collins said, “You’ll live in a hole.”

Reach Molly McMillin at 316-269-6708 or mmcmillin@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @mmcmillin.

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