Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Teen survives 5-hour flight in jet's wheel well

A teenager who stowed away on a flight from San Jose to Hawaii and miraculously survived did not know where the plane was headed when he climbed aboard, FBI officials said Monday.

The 16-year-old had run away from home when he climbed a fence at San Jose's Mineta International Airport on Sunday morning and crawled into the left rear wheel well of Hawaiian Airlines Flight 45.

"He was not planning on going to Hawaii," said FBI Honolulu spokesman Tom Simon. "He just got on a plane."

Authorities were amazed that the teen survived the 5 1/2-hour flight. The wheel well of the Boeing 767 is not pressurized or heated, meaning the teen endured extremely thin air and temperatures as low 80 degrees below zero when it cruised at 38,000 feet. "How he survived, I don't know," Simon said.

The boy probably was unconscious for most of the flight. "I imagine he must have blacked out at about 10,000 feet," Simon said.

According to the Federal Aviation Administration, the plane's steady climb to high altitudes may allow a person to drift into unconsciousness as oxygen becomes scarce. And as the heat dissipates from the wheel well, a stowaway can develop hypothermia, a condition that preserves the central nervous system. Both hypoxia and hypothermia may resolve as the plane descends for landing, the FAA said.

Security video shows the teen from Santa Clara hopping a fence at the San Jose airport and climbing into the wheel well of the jetliner. The plane landed at Maui's Kahului Airport at 10:30 a.m. local time on Sunday, but Simon said the teen did not regain consciousness for an hour. Once he woke up, he hopped down to the tarmac. Hawaiian Airlines personnel noticed the teen on a ramp and notified security.

He cleared a medical checkup and was handed over to officials from the Hawaii Department of Human Services. Officials did not release his name because he is a minor.

He "doesn't even remember the flight," Simon, the FBI spokesman, said.

Rosemary Barnes, a spokeswoman at the San Jose airport, said the FBI and Transportation Security Administration are investigating how the teen breached security. The airport has video surveillance, German shepherds and Segway-riding police officers.

It's not the first time a stowaway has survived a flight in the wheel well of an aircraft.

In August 2013, a teenage boy from Nigeria endured a 35-minute trip in the wheel well of a domestic flight that landed in Lagos. Officials credited the trip's short flight time and relatively low altitude with helping him survive.

On another occasion, a stowaway managed to survive a flight from Havana to Madrid, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

But in 2012, the body of a 26-year-old stowaway was found crumpled on a suburban London street. Officials believe he had climbed aboard a British Airways plane in Angola and was either dead or near death as he fell from the wheel well during the plane's descent into Heathrow Airport.

Contributing: Associated Press

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