A former Southwest Airlines baggage handler has been sent to prison for stealing firearms out of passenger baggage at St. Louis Lambert Airport. Mark Hunter of St. Louis has already been dismissed by Southwest Airlines for the thefts that occurred over a 15-month period between the end of March 2020 and August 2021.
In a plea agreement, Hunter pleaded guilty to knowingly possessing or receiving one or more firearms that he knew to be stolen. A full-scale investigation that unearthed Hunter’s criminal actions was only initiated after the theft of at least seven firearms were reported by Southwest passengers at the airport.
A joint investigation by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) and Transportation Security Administration (TSA) cross-referenced hundreds of employee scheduling records with the dates and times that the firearms were reported missing.
That process made Hunter the target of the investigation and after being approached by investigators Hunter admitted to the theft of five firearms from passenger baggage.
During the investigation, only one of the stolen firearms was recovered.
Passengers on U.S. domestic flights are permitted to transport unloaded firearms in their checked baggage so long as the firearm is transported in a hard-sided case that can be securely locked.
Trying to take a firearm in hand luggage is illegal but normally only carries a civil penalty. The number of firearms detected by the TSA in hand luggage has shot up through the pandemic despite lower passengers numbers.
Last week, Atlanta Hartsfield International Airport had to be partially evacuated after a loaded firearm was accidentally discharged at a TSA passenger screening checkpoint. The passenger who attempted to take the firearm with him onboard a flight fled the scene as passengers ducked for cover in fear that an active shooter was on the loose.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.