Pentagon officials announced today that the dead body of a teen-aged stowaway was discovered inside of a United States Air Force C-130J cargo plane compartment, which is located above the rear landing gear of the craft. The stowaway’s ability to gain entry to a military plane without anybody’s knowledge represents a troubling security concern.
Navy Rear Admiral John Kirby, press secretary for the Pentagon, described the dead teen as black and possibly African. He explained that the cargo plane had made several stops in various African nations on its eight-day flight, which began in Senegal and made stops along the way in Chad, Italy, Mali and Tunisia before touching down at Ramstein air base on Sunday. It is unclear where and when the teen entered the wheel well of the landing gear.
According to Kirby, the teen’s body was discovered during a comprehensive post-flight maintenance inspection of the plane. Due to the fear of contagious diseases, American and German personnel who removed the teen’s body wore protective gear. The body has since been given to German officials for an autopsy, during which a cause of death is hoped to be determined, but initial test results on samples from the body showed no sign of contagious disease. The incident remains under investigation.
German authorities will work alongside the U.S. military in order to determine if the teen’s apparent stowing away on the plane had anything to do with the current Ebola outbreak in West Africa. More than 800 cases had been confirmed in the area as of July 23rd, but WHO believes that many of the infections have not been reported, raising the current numbers to be somewhere around 1,200 people affected. As of July 23, 456 confirmed deaths had occurred and 216 more are suspected as being due to Ebola.
Responding to questions as to how the boy would have been able to board the plane undetected, Kirby said that the aircraft is designed to take off and land in “austere locations” in different countries, and that security at such airfields is not uniform and will not hold up to the same standards as in military locations.
Earlier this year, a 15-year-old teen was discovered alive inside of the wheel well of a Boeing 767 passenger plane in Maui, Hawaii, after sneaking aboard the aircraft in San Jose, California. Although in instances such as these, the public looks to the TSA to understand the breach of security, the role of the TSA is mainly limited to checkpoint security inside of the airport. Security on the outside of the airport, including where planes take off and land, is relegated to airport and local police forces.
In the April stowaway case, the teen indicated to officers that he had scaled an airport fence in San Jose and hid away inside of the wheel well when it was dark. He believes he lost consciousness about one hour after take-off and woke up approximately one hour after the plane landed in Hawaii, at which point he left the wheel well of the plane and was spotted on security cameras. His survival as a stowaway has been called nothing short of miraculous and has been attributed to the extreme cold temperatures, which may have caused his body to be in a state of “suspended animation,” and his youth. Even though the teen survived his flight to Hawaii, it is almost certain that lasting brain damage occurred.
By Jennifer Pfalz