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Boy, 15, survives flight in wheel well of plane to Maui

By Oskar Garcia

Associated Press

LAST UPDATED: 03:22 p.m. HST, Apr 21, 2014

Officials say a 15-year-old boy is "lucky to be alive" and unharmed after flying from California to Hawaii stowed away in a plane's wheel well, surviving cold temperatures at 38,000 feet and a lack of oxygen.

"Doesn't even remember the flight," FBI spokesman Tom Simon in Honolulu told The Associated Press on Sunday night. "It's amazing he survived that."

The boy was questioned by the FBI after being discovered on the tarmac at the Maui airport Sunday morning with no identification, Simon said.

"Kid's lucky to be alive," Simon said.

Simon said security footage from the San Jose airport verified that the boy from Santa Clara, Calif., hopped a fence to get to Hawaiian Airlines Flight 45 on Sunday morning.

The boy scaled the fence under the cover of darkness and remained undetected as he crossed the airport ramp, San Jose airport spokeswoman Rosemary Barnes said. San Jose police say they will be reviewing whether charges are warranted against the boy.

The child had run away from his family after an argument, Simon said. Simon said when the Boeing 767 landed in Maui, the boy hopped down from the wheel well and started wandering around the airport grounds.

"He was unconscious for the lion's share of the flight," Simon said. The flight lasted about 5 1/2 hours.

Hawaiian Airlines spokeswoman Alison Croyle said airline personnel noticed the boy on the ramp after the flight arrived and immediately notified airport security.

"Our primary concern now is for the well-being of the boy, who is exceptionally lucky to have survived," Croyle said.

A photo taken by a Maui News photographer shows the boy sitting upright on a stretcher as authorities get ready to load him into an ambulance.

Simon said the boy was medically screened and found to be unharmed.

His misadventure immediately raised security questions. A congressman who serves on the Homeland Security committee wondered how the teen could have sneaked onto the airfield at San Jose unnoticed.

"I have long been concerned about security at our airport perimeters. #Stowaway teen demonstrates vulnerabilities that need to be addressed," tweeted Rep. Eric Swalwell, a Democrat who represents the San Francisco Bay Area's eastern cities and suburbs.

Barnes said Mineta San Jose International Airport's security program exceeds federal requirements, but no system is 100 percent secure.

Airport police were working with the FBI and the Transportation Security Administration to review security at the facility as part of an investigation, Barnes said.

"Our concern is with this young boy and his family. Thank God he survived and we hope his health is OK," she said.

Officials at Kahului Airport referred questions to the State Department of Transportation, which did not return a phone call seeking comment. A TSA spokesman who declined to be named referred questions to the FBI and airport authorities.

The boy was released to child protective services and not charged with a crime, Simon said.

In August, a 13- or 14-year-old boy in Nigeria survived a 35-minute trip in the wheel well of a domestic flight after stowing away. Authorities credited the flight's short duration and altitude of about 25,000. Others stowing away in wheel wells have died, including a 16-year-old killed after stowing away aboard a flight from Charlotte, N.C., to Boston in 2010 and a man who fell onto a suburban London street as a flight from Angola began its descent in 2012.


Associated Press writer Daisy Nguyen contributed to this report from Los Angeles.

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honokai wrote:
Holy #$&*!
on April 20,2014 | 07:45PM
2NDC wrote:
If a 16 year old boy can breach San Jose security that easily......
on April 20,2014 | 07:55PM
CriticalReader wrote:
They should make all the airport trespassers go through TSA like everybody else.
on April 20,2014 | 09:08PM
kolekole wrote:
Ba boze!
on April 20,2014 | 07:58PM
Anonymous wrote:
Got to have been in the pressurized baggage compartment. I'd in wheel well and semi conscious, would have either fallen out when wells were lowered or ejected when nose gear hit the run way. At 38000 without oxygen, lose concours ness in under a minute.
on April 20,2014 | 08:32PM
HealthyandHappy wrote:
I hope he gets frequent flier miles.
on April 20,2014 | 08:42PM
justin_thyme wrote:
I smell a fish. No one except maybe an altitude-acclimatized Himalayan sherpa or Andean guide could possibly survive 4 hours at over 30,000 feet altitude with no pressurization and no heat. A 16-year-old kid from lowland California would never have survived, much less been able to walk away from the aircraft and then wander around HNL airport. He'd have had ruptured eardrums, probably collapsed lungs, and definitely brain damage from hours of extreme oxygen deprivation. I just don't believe this story, sorry.
on April 20,2014 | 09:25PM
justin_thyme wrote:
Sorry, I meant to say OGG, not HNL -- force of habit, I guess.
on April 20,2014 | 09:55PM
Manoa2 wrote:
Video shows him jumping fence at San Jose airport, and ground crew saw him crawl out of wheel well in Maui, video shows him on tarmac just after the plane landed. A lucky set of circumstances helped him-- not unlike people put in induced coma by chilling the brain, or people who survive under ice. Brain cooled in a coma reduces need for oxygenation, and preserves brain tissue and function.
on April 21,2014 | 12:45AM
livinginhawaii wrote:
Too bad he survived. Now he is going to grow up and pollute the gene pool with stupid gene...
on April 20,2014 | 09:26PM
environmental_lady wrote:
Just think that a terrorist might get the idea now of stowing away on a wheel well and then blowing up the plane before it ascends to a critical height before freezing and losing consciousness. Major security breach of Hawaiian Airlines. Last time it was safety violation. How long will Hawaiian Airlines be able to remain crash and fatality-free? What does the airline PR have to say to this now?
on April 20,2014 | 09:38PM
environmental_lady wrote:
I just found out from Hawaii TV news that the plane was a Boeing 767, which was also criticized by the FAA for its lack of air worthiness concerning the reverse thrust. Hawaiian Air has gone downhill both on safety and security. Double whammy there!
on April 20,2014 | 09:43PM
bigislandkurt wrote:
How is this even humanly possible?
on April 20,2014 | 09:51PM
poliver wrote:
This could only happen on Easter, Praise the lord! He has risen!!
on April 20,2014 | 10:08PM
Waterman2 wrote:
Bet he won't try that again, but what cojones .
on April 20,2014 | 11:06PM
SerafinaBlue wrote:
This is a hoax. The kid must have climbed in on Maui. Come ON people----total hoax.
on April 20,2014 | 11:50PM
Silversword wrote:
Attn copy editor: It's "sneaked" never "snuck." I learned that when I was in fifth grade.
on April 21,2014 | 04:09AM
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