Pepper spray ‘prank’ leads to evacuation at Hamburg airport

Emergency services temporarily evacuated Hamburg airport Sunday and treated almost 70 people after an irritant gas was released in the building - probably by a "prankster" using pepper spray, firefighters said.

Pepper spray 'prank' leads to evacuation at Hamburg airport
Emergency crews at Hamburg Airport. Photo: DPA

The northern city's airport was closed and 13 flights delayed or diverted between 11.30am and 12.45pm after people reported an unusual smell, respiratory ailments, nausea and stinging eyes.

Firefighters later said they had found an empty cartridge that was thought to have contained pepper spray, which is sold in Germany for personal self-defence.

A spokesman of the Hamburg fire department told media that an unknown “prankster” was thought to have released the gas, which then spread via the hall's ventilation system.

After similar incidents recently at local schools, “it has obviously become fashionable to empty this type of cartridge” in public places, fire department official Norbert Kusch told national news agency DPA.

Authorities said they ruled out an act of terrorism, DPA added.

Sixty-eight people were examined by paramedics and nine of them were taken to hospital.

Hundreds more had to wait outside in freezing winter temperatures for more than an hour, while subway trains to the airport were also halted.

Maik Lewerenz of the federal police office at the airport said “a bad smell has spread in the security area, where passengers and their carry-on luggage are checked.

“A number of people complained about eye and respiratory irritation,” he said.

Hamburg airport is Germany's fifth largest, with just over one million passengers a month.


Emergency numbers fail in several German states

Callers to the emergency numbers 110 and 112 weren’t able to reach operators Thursday morning in several German states.

The 112 emergency number on an ambulance.
The 112 emergency number on an ambulance. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Boris Roessler

The emergency number 110 for police and 112 for fire crews failed around the country early Thursday morning, with callers unable to reach emergency operators for urgent assistance between about 4:30 am and 5:40 am local time.

The Office for Civil Protection and Disaster Aid is looking into these outages, which were reported in states including Lower Saxony, Baden-Württemberg, and  Brandenburg, and in major cities like Berlin, Cologne, Hamburg, and Frankfurt. Cologne was further affected by cuts to electricity, drinking water, and regular telephone services. Lower Saxony also saw disruptions to the internal phone networks of police and hospitals.

Emergency services are not reporting any more disturbances and people should be able to once again reach 110 and 112 around the country as normal.

Investigators are looking into the problem, but haven’t yet established a cause or any consequences that may have happened due to the outage. Provider Deutsche Telekom says they have ruled out the possibility of an attack by hackers.