A 16-year-old California boy survived a five-and-one-half hour flight in a wheel well from San Jose to Hawaii, according to FBI spokesman Tim Simon. The teen reportedly climbed the fence of the Mienta San Jose International Airport around 10:30am Sunday and climbed into the well, losing consciousness when the plane took off.
Initial reports of the story were met with skepticism. “I…don’t believe it,” said John Nance, an ABC News aviation consultant, expressing doubts of the teen’s ability to survive a 2,300 mile flight in the wheel well without oxygen.
The Hawaiian Airlines flight was said to have reached altitudes higher than Mount Everest. Airline analyst Peter Forman expressed shock and confusion about the boy’s alleged story.”You are talking about… temperatures that can reach 40 degrees below zero,” he said. “For somebody to survive…hours with that lack of oxygen and…cold is…miraculous.”
The boy told Simon he ran away from home after a family fight and decided to hop the plane to Hawaii. Many wheel well flight attempts have been made in the past, most in immigration attempts. However, few have made it to their destination alive.
In 2010, a young boy died after falling out of a wheel well on a flight landing at Boston Logan International Airport. This February, a man was found dead in the landing gear of a South African Airbus A340.
Still some have survived. The Federal Aviation Administration studied 10 wheel well cases between 1947 and 1993, showing that half survived. At times, these flights reached altitudes of 39,000 feet.
Upon finding the boy wandering the tarmac at Kahuli Airport, airline staff immediately handed him over to the FBI. The boy does not currently face charges, but an investigation of the events has ensued. Initially skeptical, Simon and his FBI team took a look back at Monday’s video footage from Mienta San Jose International Airport. Sure enough, the young boy was seen hopping the fence walking towards the Hawaiian Airlines flight.
The Kahuli Airport also confirmed the boy’s reemergence from the Boeing 767’s wheel well an hour after landing in Maui. Authorities currently have no reason to question the California teen’s wheel well survival story, after footage from both San Jose and Hawaii confirmed it. However, security concerns were raised after the incident.
Democratic Representative Eric Swalwell reacted to the event, tweeting that he had “long been concerned about security at…[The Mienta San Jose Airport] perimeters” and said the boy’s actions only reaffirmed his worries.
Additionally, CNN aviation authority Michael Kay said that if the wheel well had been “removed or dislodged in some way, [it] could present an air safety risk.”
This does not take away from the boy’s extreme physical experience inside the wheel well. According to Dr. Richard Besser, NBC News’ chief health and medical editor, to survive a stowaway flight the body must reach a hibernation state where the heart only beats a few times a minute.
The boy’s identity has not been released to the media and he is currently being held with child protective services. The spectacular wheel well survival by the California teen to Hawaii will be investigated. But airlines spokeswoman Alison Croyle says, “[their] primary concern… is for the well-being of the boy.”
By Erin P. Friar