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70 pounds of cocaine found at LAX after flight attendant flees, police say

A traveller pulls his bags while walking past an LAX sign at Los Angeles International Airport  on November 1, 2013 in Los Angeles, California.

FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images

LOS ANGELES -- Federal authorities are searching for a flight attendant they say bolted from a security screening at Los Angeles International Airport, leaving behind about 70 pounds of cocaine stashed in her luggage.

Transportation Security Administration officers stopped the woman at random Friday, and she remained at large Monday, said Special Agent Timothy Massino with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

The flight attendant was sent to a secondary screening area, but she quickly dropped her bag, ditched a pair of Gucci heels and fled barefoot downward in an upward-moving escalator, said Marshall McClain, president of the union representing LAX airport police officers.

Police were called to investigate an unattended bag and later uncovered 69 pounds of cocaine inside, McClain said.

CBS Los Angeles reported that an American Airlines official said the discovery was made in their facilities, but the flight attendant was not an American Airlines employee.

A source told CBS Los Angeles that the suspect works for JetBlue Airways. But the company has not responded to calls or email.

McClain expressed concern that officers were alerted about the unattended bag but not a suspicious person running through the airport, he said Monday. He said the case also shows why all flight attendants and other airport employees need to be screened.

"With her bringing this amount of narcotics in the airport, chances are this wasn't her first time through," said McClain, head of the Los Angeles Airport Peace Officers Association. "We're hoping this is a wake-up call to airport management as well as federal legislators."

Security threats from "insiders" -- airline and airport employees, as well as workers hired by contractors -- have been a focus of the TSA, particularly after the December 2014 arrest of several Delta Air Lines baggage handlers. Prosecutors allege they smuggled guns, including an AK-47, from Atlanta to New York.

Federal authorities said last year that they busted a marijuana smuggling ring at Oakland International Airport, with arrests including baggage handlers. A separate arrest in December involved a TSA worker accused of allowing drug runners to pass their bags through X-ray machines without being stopped.

Four former baggage handlers at San Diego's airport were sentenced in September in a drug-smuggling case.

The TSA has said that full screening of all employees would cost too much. Instead, the agency has urged airports to increase random screenings of workers and to keep background checks up to date.

"We will pay particular attention to the insider threat," TSA Administrator Peter Neffenger told a Senate committee earlier this month.