'Unclothed' woman charged in incident at Florence airport

    Florence Regional Airport. (WPDE)

    A woman is facing charges after an indecent exposure incident at the Florence Regional Airport Sunday.

    Connie Anderson, executive director at Florence Regional Airport says the incident began at 11:23 a.m. Sunday when an "unclothed" woman gained access to airport property. Officers with the Florence Regional Airport Dept. of Public Safety notified the FAA Tower and requested air traffic be suspended until the woman was located.

    "The safety of our passengers is our number one priority and we take every measure to comply with FAA rules and regulations that are in place for their safety," she said.

    The Florence County Sheriff's Office joined in the search for the woman, and it was their K-9s who tracked the woman to a drainage culvert north of Runway 27 about a half-hour after the search began.

    The woman, who has not been identified, was charged with trespassing and taken to an area hospital for a mental evaluation.

    Anderson says the investigation concluded that the woman had not made entry to any active runway or taxiway.

    Meanwhile, some passengers were affected by the incident.

    "The pilot came over and said we weren't going to land," said Kayla Walsh, a passenger on a diverted flight originating from Charlotte.

    "They said we couldn't land because there was an incident at the Florence Airport," said Walsh, speaking on the phone from the rental car she was driving to meet her family in South Carolina after Sunday's aborted flight.

    It's usually a short flight, Walsh said. She said she makes the half-hour ride from Charlotte often to visit her family in Bennettsville.

    "The pilot told us there was something going on on the tarmac," Walsh recalled.

    With her on Sunday's flight was her 6-month-old child. She said the information she was getting up in the air was incomplete, and says what she was hearing from her father waiting at the airport was scary.

    Finally, the pilot landed back in Charlotte.

    As air traffic controllers worked to keep the airspace secure, deputies and other law enforcement scoured the area for the woman they said started the whole thing.

    Just a few hours after it started, Major Mike Nunn of the Florence County Sheriff's Office said the woman was located and offered treatment instead of a jail cell.

    Kalya Walsh and her 6-month-old are safe and sound Sunday but took another route to meet her parents.

    "We were up in the air for what seemed like forever," Walsh remembered. "I knew something was up when we were just kind of diddling around in the air."

    Sunday, there was an inbound and outbound flight canceled, though it's not clear those flights were canceled as a result of the indecent exposure incident. An American Airlines flight scheduled to depart Florence at 12:34 p.m. was canceled, according to the airline's website. A flight scheduled to arrive in Florence at 1 p.m. from Charlotte was also canceled, according to American Airlines' website.

    Several people reached out to ABC 15 News on Facebook. Many were angry over the delay.

    "We flew from Charlotte and had to circle around for an hour and a half. Just landed back in Charlotte with no available seats left for the remainder of the day. Felony charges should be brought against this lady for disrupting so many passengers. Who’s call was it to shut down an entire airport?" one woman said.

    "My sister, mom and infant niece are in the exact same situation trying to rent a car to get home now," another woman said.

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