Officials in Hawaii are preparing to send a Santa Clara teenager home after he reportedly stowed away in the wheel well of a jetliner departing San Jose.
Mineta San Jose International Airport officials said the 15-year-old managed to enter the airport, trek across the tarmac and climb into the Boeing 767’s rear left wheel well undetected and “under the cover of darkness” sometime Saturday night or Sunday morning.
The slight teenager, first seen on a security camera video, did not appear again until later Sunday morning, when airline workers spotted him 2,350 miles to the west, walking on the tarmac at Kahului Airport on the island of Maui.
The boy had run away from home, FBI officials in Hawaii said, and climbed aboard the jet without knowing where it was going. Though he could be arrested on suspicion of trespassing at the airport in San Jose, officials there say they aren’t planning on doing so.
Instead, authorities are busy trying to figure out how the teen so easily gained access to the jet and how he survived a perilous, 5 1/2-hour odyssey -- enduring frigid temperatures, oxygen deprivation and a compartment unfit for human habitation -- with so little apparent trauma.
Authorities said the temperature at the jet's cruising altitude of 38,000 feet could have dropped to 50 degrees below zero or lower. Oxygen would have also been in painfully short supply at that altitude, about 9,000 feet higher than the summit of Mt. Everest.
FBI spokesman Tom Simon said the boy apparently had been unconscious for the "lion's share of the flight."
Such ordeals do not usually end well. Those who do not fall to their death can be crushed by landing gear or succumb to cold and lack of oxygen. Federal Aviation Administration records show that of the 105 people who have stowed away on flights around the world over the last 67 years, 25 lived through the ordeal, a survival rate of 23.8%.
"He must have had the four-leaf clover in his hand or something," said Jeff Price, an aviation security expert at Metropolitan State University in Denver.
Aviation security experts said it was troubling that the teen was able to bypass security and get to the plane undetected. Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Dublin), a member of the House Homeland Security Committee, said he wanted more answers, adding that the incident "demonstrates vulnerabilities that need to be addressed."
Federal Transportation Security Administration officials said they planned to meet with law enforcement and airport authorities to review security after the incident, which experts noted could have been catastrophic had the stowaway been armed with explosives.
Officials said the teenager apparently had no malicious intent. The flight, carrying 212 passengers and 10 crew members, took off at 7:55 a.m. Sunday.
Shortly after the plane landed at 10:31 a.m., airline workers spotted the stowaway and reported him to airport security. A Maui News photo showed him some time later sitting upright on a gurney, attended by paramedics, apparently alert and showing no obvious signs of his ordeal. He wore a sweat shirt with an orange hood.
Airport personnel in Hawaii said they had turned the boy over to Hawaii's child protection office.