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Plastic skull being transported for trade show in Mexico halts baggage screening at Salt Lake City airport

An unusual item found in a traveler's luggage recently joined the ranks of oddities that officials from the Transportation Security Administration can add to their list of finds: A plastic skull.

It all started around 8 a.m. local time on Sept. 18 at Salt Lake City International Airport when a TSA explosive detection unit flagged an item inside a piece of checked luggage as a potential security threat, according to a news release from TSA. Officers reviewed the X-ray image of what appeared to be a skull with unidentifiable components inside. The item resembled an improvised explosive device, the release said.

A plastic skull being used for a trade show in Mexico was found in luggage in Salt Lake City in September 2023. Transportation Safety Administration's website

TSA officials notified the Salt Lake City Police Airport Division, who worked with the agency's explosives specialists and an explosive detection canine. Operations were suspended for about two hours as officials investigated and contacted the passenger, who was able to explain what the item was and why they were traveling with it.

Turns out that the skull is a medical training device for spine and neurosurgeons, and can be used to instruct them on how to conduct a lobotomy. The passenger was transporting the skull for display at a trade show in Cancun, Mexico, according to the release.

"This incident and subsequent response is an example of how TSA must take every potential security threat seriously while making sure that the transportation system is not put at risk," said TSA Federal Security Director for Utah Matt Davis. "I was pleased at the professionalism of everyone involved who worked closely to fully resolve the matter, to ensure that security was not compromised and to resume operations as quickly possible."

In the end, the skull was not permitted to travel on a commercial aircraft and was retained by TSA to be picked up upon the passenger's return to Salt Lake City.

Other items that TSA officials have confiscated inside luggage at airports in recent years include raw chicken, knives inside laptops and drugs inside hair scrunchies. 

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