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Stowaway on jet said to be homesick for Africa

By Martha Mendoza & Oskar Garcia

Associated Press

LAST UPDATED: 06:51 a.m. HST, Apr 24, 2014

A security video shows the California boy who survived stowing away on a jetliner dangling his feet from the aircraft's wheel well after arriving in Hawaii, before jumping 8 to 10 feet to the ground and collapsing, an airport official says.

The 15 year old, who defied the odds by living through the freezing, low-pressure conditions in the jetliner's wheel well as it flew from California to Hawaii, was disoriented and thirsty after Sunday's ordeal, Maui District Airport Manager Marvin Moniz said.

Staggering toward the nose of the plane, the soft-spoken boy in a San Francisco Giants hoodie asked a ramp agent for a drink of water, setting in motion federal and local law enforcement investigations, national calls for better airport security and a flurry of speculation about how anyone could survive such a perilous trip.

Abdilahi Yusuf Abdi, who said he is the boy's father, told Voice of America Wednesday that his son -- who is still hospitalized in Honolulu -- missed Africa, where they used to live, and had been struggling in school.

Abdi said he learned of the perilous journey Sunday when he got a call from police in Hawaii.

"When I watched the analysis about the extraordinary and dangerous trip of my son on local TVs and that Allah had saved him, I thanked God and I was very happy," Abdi said.

The Associated Press was unable to reach Abdi, who airport officials say drives a taxi.

After the boy was discovered in Maui, FBI and Transportation Security Administration investigators questioned him and fed him like a local with teriyaki meatballs and rice from an airport restaurant and a box of Maui macadamia nut cookies. The teen, whose name has not been released, said he had been in an argument at home, went to the airport, and got onto the first plane he came to.

"He didn't realize he was in Maui -- not at all," Moniz said.

The boy told officials he evaded what was supposed to be a multi-layered airport security system in San Jose by climbing a fence.

That hasn't surprised airport security experts, who say that for all the tens of billions of dollars the nation has spent screening passengers and their bags, few airports made a comparable investment to secure the airplanes parked on the tarmac.

"No system is foolproof," said San Jose International Airport aviation director Kim Aguirre. "Certainly as we learn more, if we see any gaping holes, we will work to fill them."

Aguirre said a perimeter search found no holes or crawl spaces in the barbed-wire fence surrounding the 1,050-acre airport.

Santa Clara High School Principal Gregory Shelby sent a note Tuesday to staff saying the teen has been in the U.S. for about four years, speaks English as his second language and had transferred into the district five weeks earlier, according to Jennifer Dericco, a spokeswoman for the Santa Clara Unified School District.

Aviation security experts say San Jose is hardly alone when it comes to weaknesses in securing its airfield.

"What happened in San Jose can happen as we speak at other airports, because nobody can watch all these monitors" that feed video from around the airport, said Rafi Ron, former head of security at Tel Aviv, Israel airport. He now runs a security consulting firm.

That the teen survived is remarkable. At a cruising altitude of 38,000 feet, temperatures would have been well below zero and the air so starved of oxygen that he likely passed out. In response, his body could have entered a hibernation-like state, experts say.

The TSA said it has spent $80 billion on aviation security since its inception shortly after the 9/11 attacks. That does not include perimeter security.

"We were investing all our resources in the front door, which were the passengers and their bags," Ron said. "And we left the back door open."


Mendoza reported from San Jose, Calif. Associated Press writers Justin Prichard in Los Angeles and Audrey McAvoy in Honolulu contributed to this report.


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jmarie wrote:
So whats the story? is his family here illegally, send him back to Africa!
on April 24,2014 | 06:39AM
islandsun wrote:
Yup! Get them out of here.
on April 24,2014 | 07:54AM
ellinaskyrt wrote:

The boy is from war-torn Somalia. He's most likely a refugee.

I just adore how much aloha you and others commenting below have for a boy who likely spent much of his young life witnessing war, murder, rape and whatever other evils the world can bear. I wouldn't be surprised if his mother were herself a victim of rape, and his heart aches and is full of guilt for the suffering he knows she is going through because she is still there and he is lucky enough to have escaped to the US.

Thank you all for demonstrating that callousness and thinly veiled racism exists not only in an eastern coastal country of Africa, but also right here, on the Honolulu Star-Advertiser website. You should all be so proud.

on April 24,2014 | 02:20PM
islandsun wrote:
Again, get them out of here.
on April 24,2014 | 03:19PM
ellinaskyrt wrote:
Again, you're a paragon of humanity.
on April 25,2014 | 11:55AM
Oahuan wrote:
Just tell him to take a ride on our streets. That should remind him of home (3rd world conditions).
on April 24,2014 | 06:53AM
KekoaBradshaw wrote:
This is the best post of the day---and unfortunately, so true!
on April 24,2014 | 08:19AM
loquaciousone wrote:
This young man's future is in the NFL as a middle linebacker. Anyone who can survive this gotta be tough.
on April 24,2014 | 07:12AM
noheawilli wrote:
So when your homesick for Africa, everyone knows to jump on a plane labeled "Hawaiian". Now who doesn't want to take a ride in the wheel well?
on April 24,2014 | 07:30AM
bluemoki wrote:
Since English is not his native language, he probably did not know what the word "Hawaiian" meant.
on April 24,2014 | 12:56PM
ready2go wrote:
The lack of security is scary. The San Jose airport and Hawaiian airlines should do a better job.
on April 24,2014 | 07:48AM
Anonymous wrote:
Who's paying for the hospital stay? Four years in the USA and still homesick? No charges brought by the FBI. If no penalty, I can see a lot more people trying this.
on April 24,2014 | 08:00AM
iwanaknow wrote:
From sfgate.com, the boy Yahya Abdi's birth mother and grandparents are in Somalia, Africa..............someone give him a one way ticket please. He's had his 15 minutes of fame already.
on April 24,2014 | 09:04AM
Anonymous wrote:
Just out of curiousity, why should someone give him (or purchase) a ticket for him? Why is he here in the first place? Because his father brought him here? Make the father pay for his ticket to fly back to San Jose and pay all damges/fines that will arise. You live in America, you live by American rules! What if this was a heartbroken American teenager who snuck on a flight in Africa. This person would pretty much be imprisoned.
on April 24,2014 | 11:22AM
scooters wrote:
Ship him back and bill the parents....
on April 24,2014 | 09:53AM
beachbum11 wrote:
What about daddy?
on April 24,2014 | 11:03AM
IAmSane wrote:
Your daddy will be home soon, honey.
on April 24,2014 | 03:51PM
Anonymous wrote:
As a frequent flyer and honest citizen of the United States of America and the State of Hawai`i, I really hope the government of the United States of America takes the appropriate action against this individual as what he did was against the law and a federal offense. There should be no difference in consequences whether this was a troubled teenager from Waipahu (no pun intended) or a homesick student from Somalia who lived in San Jose, CA. JUSTICE FOR ALL!
on April 24,2014 | 11:19AM
MakaniKai wrote:
Barry will probably invite him to the White House.
on April 24,2014 | 12:20PM
buttery wrote:
ALLAH AND GOD IN ONE SENTENCE! A future politician!!!!
on April 24,2014 | 12:24PM
HawaiiCheeseBall wrote:
Dude wants to go to Africa but he jumps on a plane that has HAWAIIAN written all over it. Now I understand - he was having trouble in school.
on April 24,2014 | 01:07PM
bleedgreen wrote:
The US uses the old-style barbed wire atop security fences. I don't know if it is allowed, but security can be easily improved by using concertina razor wire in place of barbed wire.
on April 24,2014 | 01:49PM
false wrote:
It was a dry run...
on April 24,2014 | 02:26PM
false wrote:
If i had a son, he'd look like him...
on April 24,2014 | 02:27PM
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