Nightmare at DIA: An Alleged Sexual Assault Calls the Airport's Security into Question

April 15 2011, 10:38 AM

Two Frontier Airlines mechanics were working on a tarmac outside Denver International Airport's Concourse A shortly after midnight on Tuesday, when they looked up through a window into the building and noticed that something didn't seem right. "Up on the concourse, there was what looked to me like a man stuffing a suitcase," one says (9News). They climbed a jetway into the concourse and saw that the man was beating a woman. "It looked like he kind of had a hold of her hair, and he was reared way back and gave her a smack, probably on the side of her leg. ... He gave her a good whack as we were going up there."

When they arrived they found Noel Alexander Bertrand allegedly raping a 22-year-old Oregon woman, who planned to sleep in the airport after missing a connecting flight. She had intended to be in Illinois, looking into a position at a convent (reports are conflicting on the details of the job). Instead, she says she was violently assaulted by Bertrand, a 26-year-old former Marine who followed her after the airport restaurant they were in closed for the night. The victim spoke with Fox31 shortly after the incident, and further details have been relayed through police reports (CBS4), as well as the mechanics who interrupted the assault and kept Bertrand in place before a security guard arrived and police subsequently arrested him.

Many news accounts, including the original Fox31 report, have noted the victim claims as many as three people (ostensibly employed by the airport) witnessed the crime and ignored it, although police and airport officials say workers "responded appropriately" (Associated Press).  "To the best of our knowledge, airport employees who witnessed the incident responded immediately by either calling for help or intervening in the situation," says one DIA spokeswoman (7News).

The incident has led to questions regarding security at DIA, as it marks the "seventh sexual-assault complaint from passengers, visitors, or employees at the airport in a little more than four years," writes the Denver Post. Officials confirm layers of security at DIA include members of the Denver Police Department, a private security firm, and federal agents, although fewer are on duty in the late-night and early-morning hours. Rotating surveillance cameras, about 1,000 in all, are not observed simultaneously, but video footage from that night on the concourse could be useful to police (7News).

Bertrand, who does not reportedly have a prior criminal history in his home state of Oregon, appeared in court Wednesday, but returned to Denver County Jail after a judge set his bond at $50,000 (Post).