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Calif. teen survives after stowing away on flight from San Jose to Hawaii

SAN JOSE, Calif. — A 15-year-old boy found his way onto an airport's tarmac and climbed into a jetliner's wheel well in San Jose, then flew for five freezing hours to Hawaii — a misadventure that forced authorities to take a look at the security system that protects the nation's airline fleet.

The boy, who lives in Santa Clara, Calif., hopped out of the left rear wheel well of a Boeing 767 on the Maui airport tarmac Sunday, according to the FBI. Authorities found the high school student wandering the airport grounds with no identification. He was questioned by the FBI and taken by ambulance to a hospital, where he was found to be unharmed.

FBI spokesman Tom Simon in Honolulu said the teen had run away from his home after an argument and had climbed into the left rear wheel well of the first plane he saw in San Jose.

His name and condition weren't released. He is not facing criminal charges in Hawaii and was released to social workers, Simon said.

The teen passed out in the air and didn't regain consciousness until an hour after the plane landed in Hawaii, Simon said.

It was not clear how the boy stayed alive in the unpressurized space, where temperatures at cruising altitude can fall well below zero and the air is too thin for humans to stay conscious. An FAA study of stowaways found that some survive by going into a hibernationlike state.

On Monday, authorities tried to determine how the boy slipped through multiple layers of security, including wide-ranging video surveillance, German shepherds and Segway-riding police officers.

San Jose International Airport spokeswoman Rosemary Barnes says airport employees monitor security video feeds from throughout the 1,050-acre airport round the clock. However, she said no one noticed images of an unidentified person walking on the airport ramp and approaching Hawaiian Airlines Flight 45 in the dark until security agents reviewed the footage after the plane had landed in Hawaii and the boy had been found.

A 15-year-old boy who ran away from home and climbed into the wheel well of a flight from San Jose, Calif., to Maui, Hawaii, is loaded into an ambulance Sunday at Kahului Airport. The boy was not injured.

Associated Press

A 15-year-old boy who ran away from home and climbed into the wheel well of a flight from San Jose, Calif., to Maui, Hawaii, is loaded into an ambulance Sunday at Kahului Airport. The boy was not injured.

How stowaways can survive on jets

Despite the subzero temperatures and lack of oxygen, people can survive even a long journey in the wheel well of a jetliner. The human body enters a state akin to hibernation. Breathing, heart rate and brain activity can continue — but at a much slower-than-normal rate. Several doctors likened the body's experience in a wheel well on a long flight to what happens when someone falls under the ice of a frozen pond. They may have no pulse when they are pulled out, but could be revived. Worldwide, there have been 105 known people who stowed away since 1947, according to data kept by the Federal Aviation Administration. Counting the California teen, 25 made it alive, for a survival rate of about one in four.

Calif. teen survives after stowing away on flight from San Jose to Hawaii 04/21/14 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 22, 2014 12:15am]
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