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Stranded on LA tarmac

Los Angeles, Aug. 12: More than 20,000 international passengers were stranded for hours at Los Angeles International Airport yesterday, waiting on airplanes and in packed customs halls while a malfunctioning computer system prevented US officials from processing the travellers’ entry into the country.

The US customs and border protection system went down around 2pm, forcing some planes to sit on the tarmac for so long that workers had to refuel them to keep their power units and air conditioning running. Maintenance workers ran trucks around the airport hooking up tubes to service lavatories.

Just after midnight yesterday, Tom Winfrey, a spokesperson for Los Angeles World Airports, said the computer system was up and running. As of 2am, 377 passengers were still being processed. At 3.40am, customs was still processing the last seven persons — all from the last flight to arrive early today: Mexicana Airlines Flight 922 from Guadalajara, Mexico.

The last passengers cleared customs at 3.50am. That did not include six travellers detained because of passport or agriculture questions.

“This is probably one of the worst days we’ve had. I’ve been with the agency for 30 years and I’ve never seen the system go down and stay down for as long as it did,” said Peter Gordon, acting port director for customs.

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