Californian Teen Travels To Hawaii Inside A Plane’s Tire

Posted: April 22, 2014 in Headlines

Teen apparently traveled from California
to Hawaii in plane’s landing gear
FAA says 105 stowaways have made
similar attempts since 1947; 25 survived
The situation indicates a “big security
breach,” aviation expert says
Boy is with child welfare services, official
says; San Jose plans no legal action
(CNN) — The questions are many.
But the first has to be, how in the world did a
16-year-old boy survive a five-hour flight in
below freezing cold weather at oxygen-
depleted heights without dying or falling out
of the wheel well of a huge jumbo jet?
Another has to be, how does a 16-year-old
even sneak on to an airport and a plane to
begin with?
Authorities likely were trying to find the
answers to some of their questions Monday.
The boy remained in the custody of child
welfare services workers in Hawaii. But the
FBI says they have no more need to
interview the boy as he is no threat.
How did the wheel well stowaway survive?
See how stowaway could hid in wheel well
How a stowaway survived a 5-hour flight
How could stowaway get inside wheel well?
Apparently he’s just a runaway who popped
out of the wheel well of Hawaii Airlines Flight
45 on Sunday to the amazement of the
ground crew at the Kahului Airport on the
island of Maui — and triggering a host of
How did he survive the flight?
As unlikely as it sounds, officials believe the
boy rode in a tiny, cramped compartment for
almost five hours, at altitudes that reached
38,000 feet, without oxygen and in subzero
“It sounds really incredible,” said aviation
expert Jeff Wise. “Being in a wheel well is
like all of a sudden being on top of Mount
Between the oxygen depletion and the cold,
life expectancy “is measured in minutes,”
Wise said.
But some people have survived. Since 1947,
105 people are known to have attempted to
fly inside wheel wells on 94 flights
worldwide, the Federal Aviation
Administration’s Civil Aerospace Medical
Institute says. Of those, 25 made it through,
including a 9-year-old child — a survival
rate of 24%. One of the flights went as high
as 39,000 feet. Two others were at 38,000
The conditions at high altitudes can put
stowaways in a virtual “hibernative” state,
the FAA said.
Someone could slip into unconsciousness so
that the body cools and “the central nervous
system is preserved,” said CNN aviation
expert Michael Kay. Also, he said, “there
could be a situation where inside the bay is
warmer than the external air temperature and
you wouldn’t get the instantaneous freezing
of the skin.”
Still, “for somebody to survive multiple hours
with that lack of oxygen and that cold is just
miraculous,” airline analyst Peter Forman
told CNN affiliate KHON in Honolulu.
The boy’s survival is “dumb luck mostly,”
says Dr. Kenneth Stahl, trauma surgeon at
Miami’s Jackson Memorial Hospital. The
temperature outside the airplane could have
been as low as 75 or 80 degrees below zero,
said Stahl, who is also a pilot. “Those are
astronomically low temperatures to survive.”
The boy was likely so cold that “he was
essentially in a state of suspended
animation,” Stahl said. Being young likely
worked in his favor, too. “No adult would
have survived that,” Stahl added.
The boy could face permanent brain damage
from the experience, in fact, it’s “more likely
than not,” Stahl said. He could face
neurological issues, memory problems or a
lower IQ.
When the ground crew at Kahului Airport
noticed the boy, he was wandering the
tarmac, dazed and confused.
The teen also could have frostbite or a kidney
injury because when the body freezes,
particles of muscle enter the blood stream
and damage the kidneys, Stahl said.
How did he get there?
The 16-year-old apparently hitched a ride
from San Jose, California, to Maui in the
landing-gear wheel well of a Boeing 767,
Hawaiian Airlines said.
The boy told authorities he was from Santa
Clara, California, and ran away from home
Sunday morning, said FBI Special Agent Tom
Simon. He didn’t have an ID and was
carrying only a comb.
He hopped an airport fence, ran to the plane
and climbed on, the FBI said.
“It appears that this teenager scaled a
section of our perimeter,” Mineta San Jose
International Airport spokeswoman
Rosemary Barnes told CNN. The boy “was
able to proceed onto our ramp under cover of
darkness and enter the wheel well of an
Officials for the city of San Jose, which
operates the airport, are not planning any
legal action, Barnes said Monday. Once they
were confident that the teen did not present a
threat, the FBI dropped out of the
The boy is in the custody of child welfare
services workers in Hawaii, said Kayla
Rosenfeld, a spokeswoman for the state’s
Department of Human Services. She said
Monday afternoon that officials have notified
the boy’s family that he is safe.
How did no one notice him?
Surveillance camera footage shows the boy
hopping the fence at the San Jose airport, the
FBI said. There’s also camera footage of him
walking across the ramp in San Jose toward
the Hawaiian aircraft, the airport said.
Video “is under review by federal and local
law enforcement officials here,” Barnes said.
“And we’ll continue to review that to
determine where, in fact, the teenager was
able to scale the fence line.”
The boy told investigators he crawled into
the wheel well of the plane and lost
consciousness when the plane took off.
An hour after the plane landed at Kahului
Airport, the boy regained consciousness and
emerged to a “dumbfounded” ground crew,
the FBI’s Simon said.
The Maui airport has video of him crawling
out of the left main gear area.
“It makes no sense to me,” Simon said.
Mavin Moniz, the Maui District airport
manager, added that a worker saw the boy
come out of the wheel well and walk toward
the front of the aircraft.
“Clearly there’s a big security breach here,
which in the post 9/11 world order is a
concern,” said Kay. To get past all sorts of
people apparently unnoticed is “a physical
feat,” he said.
How did he not get crushed or fall?
It’s not hard at all” to climb inside the wheel
well, said Jose Wolfman Guillen, a ground
operations coordinator at Chicago’s O’Hare
International Airport. “You can grab onto the
struts and landing gear assembly kind of like
a ladder, and you just jump on the tire and
climb into the wheel well.”
Inside, there’s not much room — even less
than in the trunk of a car, Guillen said. A
stowaway would need to guess “where the
tire is going to fold in when it closes after
takeoff. There’s a high risk of getting crushed
once the gear starts going in.”
During the flight, “the interior guts of the
aircraft, they’re pretty exposed inside the
wheel well, so there’s a lot of stuff you can
hold on to,” Guillen adds. “It’s just a matter
of holding on to it for the duration of the flight
and maintaining your grip when the gear
opens up and not falling out. If you fell out,
you could get horribly mangled or dragged
on the runway.”
It’s possible for a stowaway to enter other
parts of the plane through a wheel well,
though complicated, Guillen said. It would
require know-how.
“On a 767 and other wide bodies, there are
small latched doors that a very small and fit
person can (use to) access the wheel wells
for maintenance. You could access the
passenger cabin from the wheel wells, but
again, some knowledge of the anatomy of the
aircraft is required. I wouldn’t know how to
do it.”
In February, crews at Dulles International
Airport in suburban Washington found the
body of a man inside the landing-gear wheel
well of an Airbus A340 operated by South
African Airways.
In 2010, a 16-year-old boy died after he fell
out of the wheel well of a US Airways flight
that was landing at Boston’s Logan
International Airport.
The most recent known case of someone
surviving was on a short domestic flight in
Nigeria . A 15-year-old boy snuck into the
wheel well of a flight from Benin City to
Lagos — thinking it was a flight to the United
States, according to an FAA report. The ride
lasted only 35 minutes, and the plane likely
went no higher than 25,000 feet.
The FAA and Transportation Security
Administration have studied stowaway
incidents to augment security. Many
incidents involve people desperately trying to
escape their countries.
“No system is 100%,” said San Jose airport
spokeswoman Barnes.
Sent From The Beats Online Magazine HQ, Nigeria.


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