A 15 year old boy miraculously survived a flight from California to the Hawaiian island of Maui this past Easter weekend while hidden in a wheel well of a Hawaiian Airlines plane.
He was found wandering dazed on the tarmac of the Maui airport and was subsequently hospitalized and put into the care of the Hawaii Department of Human Services. The Christian Science monitor reports that the teen slept for an hour after the plane landed before he emerged from its wheel well.
Trying to Find His Mom
The teen spent almost seven hours on the ground at the Mineta Airport of San Jose while in the wheel well before the jet took off. He was said to have gained access to the jet after jumping over a fence just after midnight.
Law enforcement officials reported that the boy said he was trying to make his way to the African country of Somalia to find his mother after hearing she was there. Footprints found and photographed on the plane’s tires and the hatch leading to the wheel well as well as the airport surveillance videos appear to confirm the teen’s story.
Lucky to Be Alive
Investigators say that the high school student is very lucky to have survived the five hour flight. Less than one in four of those who attempt such a feat live to tell about it.
Oxygen levels in the wheel well during the flight would likely have been at around zero, and the cramped compartment is not pressurized or heated as the interior of a plane is. Temperatures were likely well below zero while the jet cruised at an altitude of 38,000 feet over the Pacific, as reported by the NY Daily News website.
The teen said he lost consciousness once the plane took off, which experts say happened due to the lack of oxygen and freezing temperatures at the plane’s cruising altitude. The FAA says that conditions at high altitudes tend to put stowaways of this type into a sort of “hibernation” state, as covered by the CNN International website.
The NY Daily News website further reports that the teen was taken in for questioning after he was found wandering around the tarmac of Maui’s Kahului Airport with no identification.
Investigators believe the boy didn’t know where the plane was headed when he boarded it in San Jose, and just randomly chose the nearest plane after jumping the airport fence. Needless to say, this incident has raised many questions about the true veracity of current airport security measures.
A Quiet Stowaway
A fellow student of the stowaway from Santa Clara High School told the news network CNN that he had just transferred to the school a few weeks earlier. The fellow student did not know the boy very well, but described him as “quiet” and “shy” in school, CNN sources say.
Throughout the history of commercial aviation, other people have tried to stow themselves away in airplane wheel wells during flights as well.
Since the year 1947, 105 individuals on 94 flights have been known to make similar attempts to fly for free inside of airplane wheel wells, reports the Federal Aviation Administration’s Civil Aerospace Medical Institute. Of this total, 25 people have made it to their destinations alive, including a 9 year old child.
Two of these 94 flights were at 38,000 feet just as the Maui flight was; another flight soared as high as 39,000 feet and was survived by a stowaway. This is an overall survival rate of around 24% for all of those who have attempted it.
The fallout from this incident is no doubt just beginning. In an age where it often takes most people an extra hour just to get through airport security, it seems incomprehensible that someone would be able to jump over an airport fence and hide in a jet’s wheel well undetected.