Bomb threat closes airport temporarily

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Updated 9:35 am

Martha’s Vineyard Airport was closed for about 3½ hours Tuesday morning due to a bomb threat, but reopened after a bomb-sniffing dog did not find anything suspicious, assistant airport manager Geoffrey Freeman told The Times. At 7:26 am, West Tisbury Police Chief Matt Mincone called the situation an “active investigation.” However, peril bottomed out as the morning wore on.

“We’re clearing the scene,” West Tisbury Fire Chief Manuel Estrella III told The Times as he exited the airport at approximately 9:30 am.

The threat was called in to the airport at about 6 am, Freeman said, and soon after the airport was closed to all traffic — vehicular and air. The call was placed to a customer service agent at the general aviation office, he said. 

First responder crews composed of Edgartown firefighters and EMS staff, a West Tisbury rescue company, and Tri-Town Ambulance staff staged in the vicinity of Vineyard Decorators while West Tisbury Police, the Dukes County Sheriff’s Office, and Island State Police worked with airport staff to explore the threat. Airport staff coordinated with TSA, FAA, and MassDOT’s aeronautics division. The airport’s Air Rescue Firefighters (ARFF) staged on the tarmac. The airport entrance was blocked alternately by Edgartown Police and West Tisbury Police, but some business owners were allowed into the fitness club and package store areas, which are nearer to the entrance of the airport. Nobody was allowed to go beyond Vineyard Decorators while the threat was active.

At about 8:40 am, a State Police helicopter arrived from Plymouth with a K9 bomb detection unit and investigated the airport. For 30 minutes, the unit searched all areas with public access, Freeman said. 

Despite the Island’s emergency communications center being at the airport, Sheriff Robert Ogden told The Times communications remained active, while all nonessential personnel were told to stay home. Emergency dispatchers and telecommunicators remained at the communications center, as did Ogden himself. “We opened our facility to [state and local police] to utilize our conference room,” he said just before 9 am. “We have also provided a safe area for airport employees, pilots, and TSA staff to wait it out.”

The Salvation Army was on hand to provide sandwiches and coffee to first responders. TSA personnel and pilots from Cape Air and NetJets gravitated to the Salvation Army trailer too. Several pilots could be seen on garden chairs in the shadow of an overhang at Vineyard Decorators, waiting for the time they could return to their aircraft. 

Some people could be seen leaving the airport by car, and several others were on foot, towing suitcases behind them along Airport Road.

Cormac McHenry, who was due to take off on Cape Air on a flight to Westchester Airport at 9:40 am, was outside the Black Sheep, where several other passengers were waiting. He was dropped off at the airport by Mary Pat Thornton of Aquinnah.

“I never got that far,” McHenry said when asked what he was told by the airline. 

The airport reopened at 9:40 am, and the State Police K9 unit was back in the air by 9:50 am. The incident remains under investigation, according to a press statement from West Tisbury Police Sgt. Matt Gebo. 

Updated with new details after breaking the news at 7 am. 

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