San Jose airport completes new fencing to keep trespassers out

SAN JOSE — Two years after a teenager hopped the airport’s perimeter fence and sneaked into the wheel well of a Hawaii-bound jet, Mineta San Jose International has finished installing higher fencing topped with barbed wire and could soon install more security cameras.

Though the airport’s old 6-foot fences had met federal security standards, the airport’s security was called into question after trespassers scaled the perimeter fencing numerous times in recent years.

The highest-profile incident happened in 2014 when Santa Clara teen Yahya Abdi slipped past the fence and miraculously survived a 5 ½ hour-flight stowed away in a Hawaiian Airlines jet’s wheel well. The boy said he hopped the fence to get back to his mother in Africa.

“Despite the fact that we met all security standards, after that incident and a few others that happened over a year, we agreed we needed to do something different,” said airport spokeswoman Rosemary Barnes on Tuesday. “We realized it was important for us to make changes.”

Other incidents included serial stowaway Marilyn Hartman who slipped past terminal security at the airport and got on an airplane that flew to Los Angeles in August 2014 and Miguel Zaragoza who was detained last November after he was caught trespassing on the private Atlantic Aviation ramp at the airport, an area not open to the public.

Perimeter breaches have been a problem at airports nationwide. An Associated Press report after the Abdi incident found that there had been at least 268 breaches from the start of 2004 through early 2015 at San Jose and the nation’s 30 busiest passenger airports.

The San Jose perimeter project, completed last week, raised 8,600 feet of fencing at the airport’s north and south ends from 6 feet to 10 feet and even 11 feet in key areas. It also topped the fence with a foot of razor wire, making it harder to penetrate.

The project was paid for with $3.4 million in federal grants secured by a host of Bay Area congressional leaders, including Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Dublin. The airport covered $1.8 million in related costs for the project.

Swalwell on Tuesday said elected leaders have “no greater responsibility” than to protect the American people by ensuring airports aren’t prone to trespassing.

“Our enemies have told the world they want to bring down another U.S. airliner,” Swalwell said. “One way to stop that is to protect our airport perimeters and not just in San Jose.”

The congressman said higher fences alone won’t be enough. He supports using new technology to safeguard against those who bypass security measures to get access to a plane.

And now that the fencing upgrades are finished, airport leaders hope to use high-tech solutions to further beef up security. Barnes said the airport is looking to install more security cameras around the perimeter as well as new motion sensors to catch trespassers trying to hop the fence.

Vice Mayor Rose Herrera, who sat on a city committee under Mayor Chuck Reed that focused on increasing airport business, said the city has an obligation to keep residents and travelers safe.

“We’re a growing airport and we want to make sure the traveling public is protected,” Herrera said. “The fence combined with the other technology is going to make it a pretty tough perimeter to penetrate.”

Local lawmakers will seek more federal funding to pay for the technology upgrades, including cameras and sensor devices. The airport is seeking $8.1 million in federal grants for the enhancements and would cover an additional $2 million in costs from airport funds.

The airport’s passenger traffic climbed to 10.3 million passengers in July from 9.6 million in 2014-15 and continues to grow as it landed five new flights to international flights to locales like Beijing, Shanghai, London, Vancouver and Germany.

Contact Ramona Giwargis at 408-920-5705. Follow her at

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