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Stowaway, 15, survives five-hour flight on plane’s wheel

April 24, 2014 Aviation, Headline News No Comments Email Email

egtmedia59A 15-year-old boy appears to have pulled off an almost impossible stunt and survived a flight from the US mainland to Hawaii, sitting in the wheel well of a Hawaiian Airlines B767.

The flight takes five and a half hours, Lack of oxygen and sub-zero temperatures almost always kills such stowaways.

The story broke when Hawaiian media reported that authorities were trying to work out whether a teenager found wandering on the tarmac at Maui’s Kahului Airport on Easter Day was telling the truth when he claimed to have stowed away in the wheel well (sometimes called the undercarriage bay) of a flight from San Jose, California. Web-banner-300-250

When the boy was found by airport workers, he had no identification. The FBI was called and interviewed the boy, who claimed to have run away from home in California and hitched an airborne ride to Hawaii after getting into an argument with his family.

The Los Angeles Times reported that the boy was spotted on a security camera video at San Jose Mineta International Airport – but then disappeared.

He apparently disappeared into the wheel well of a plane.  The next time he was seen, he was 3782 kilometres to the east, on Kahului Airport on the Hawaiian island of Maui.

The Hawaiian B767 he travelled on has flown the Pacific carrying 10 crew and 212 passengers on the inside, plus one on the outside.

Apart from triggering sheer astonishment, the adventure has raised questions about how the boy reached the jet so easily. The US Transportation Security Administration takes such matters seriously. Suppose the boy had been a terrorist rather than a mixed-up teenage misadventurer?

A Maui News photo showed the boy later, attended by paramedics but sitting upright and showing no obvious sign of any problem.

The temperature at the plane’s cruising altitude of 38,000 feet could have dropped to 50 degrees below zero or less. That altitude is 11.5 kilometres high in the sky. To put it in perspective, Mt Everest is far lower. The world’s highest mountain is 8.8 kilometres high, and climbers wear oxygen masks to reach the summit. There is little oxygen atop Mt Everest, let alone at more than 2 kilometres higher, the altitude at which the boy flew.

Most stowaways who hide in the external sections of planes die, though the survival rate is apparently almost one in four, at 23.8% (see: Amazing and deadly stories of airline stowaways)

An FBI spokesman said the boy apparently had been unconscious for the “lion’s share of the flight”.

The fact that the boy woke up at all makes it all very interesting, even if incredibly dangerous.

Written by : Peter Needham

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