How Teen Stowaway Survived in Wheel Well

15-year-old entered hibernation-like state, experts say
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 22, 2014 5:06 AM CDT
How Teen Stowaway Survived in Wheel Well
The stowaway is loaded into an ambulance at Kahului Airport in Kahului, Maui, Hawaii.   (AP Photo/The Maui News, Chris Sugidono)

The teenage stowaway who made it from California to Hawaii in the wheel well of a Boeing 767 beat some very long odds to survive, experts say. At 38,000 feet, the boy—who authorities now say is 15, not 16 as earlier reported—had to survive extremely thin air as well as temperatures as low as 80 below zero. There was also the risk of falling out, or being crushed by moving parts of the landing gear. "It's amazing," a curator at the National Air and Space Museum tells NBC. "He's very, very lucky to be alive. Something like that happens only once in a long time." Most people wouldn't last more than a few minutes at that altitude, he says, and the "few survivors almost all have been very young males who were presumably fairly fit." More:

  • The teen survived thanks to a fluke of conditions where it "got cold enough to protect his brain, but not cold enough to stop his heart," director of the Institute for Altitude Medicine tells the Washington Post. The boy almost certainly spent almost the entire flight unconscious in a hibernation-like state, he says.

  • The FAA says there have been 105 recorded wheel-well stowaways since 1947. Only 25 of those survived, and only a handful of those survivors were ever at altitudes higher than 30,000 feet.
  • FBI officials say the boy, who ran away from his Santa Clara home after an argument with his family, didn't know where the plane was going when he climbed into the landing gear, reports the Los Angeles Times. "He was not planning on going to Hawaii," a spokesman says. "He just got on a plane." He was turned over to child protective services after passing a medical check and has not yet been charged with a crime.
  • At San Jose airport, meanwhile, officials are investigating how the boy was able to sneak onto the plane, the AP reports. Surveillance cameras captured him crossing the tarmac and climbing into the landing gear, but the security breach wasn't discovered until the boy was found in Hawaii and authorities reviewed the footage.
(More stowaway stories.)

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