Hawaii flight stowaway spent 6 hours undetected at San Jose airport
A15-year-old boy appears to have spent up to six hours undetected at a San Jose airport Sunday before sneaking inside the wheel well of a Maui-bound jet, according to a federal law enforcement source.
The source, who spoke to The Times on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to comment on the case, said a security camera at Mineta San Jose International Airport recorded video of a person coming over a perimeter fence just after 1 a.m. Sunday.
Airport spokeswoman Rosemary Barnes insisted that the airport has no surveillance video showing anyone hopping over a fence.
Rather, there is one video showing an “unidentified person” walking on a ramp near the Boeing 767, Barnes said. She declined to say when the video was taken, saying only that it was filmed “during darkness.”
“Certainly we’re reviewing what happened and what we can learn from this,” Barnes said.
Airport security experts said the intrusion was troubling — not just because a 15-year-old was able to sneak onto the airport’s grounds, but because of the possibility that he spent hours there without drawing attention.
“For somebody to come on the field and get to an aircraft unnoticed, it’s unusual, but it’s not extraordinary,” said Jeff Price, an aviation security expert at Metropolitan State University of Denver. “All you have to do is dress properly and look official and no one’s going to approach you. In this case, I wonder what he’s doing for six hours.”
The story of the teenager’s 5 1/2 -hour, 2,350-mile trek has drawn international attention. Authorities said it was a miracle the boy survived in the wheel well, as oxygen was limited at the jet’s cruising altitude of 38,000 feet, and temperatures could have dropped to 50 degrees below zero or lower.
Only 25 of the 105 people who have attempted to stow away on planes in the last 67 years have survived the ordeal, according to FAA records. Those who do not fall or freeze to death can be crushed by moving landing gear or die from lack of oxygen.
Officials said the boy was unconscious during much of the flight, waking up only after the Boeing 767 touched down at Kahului Airport. Workers there spotted him walking on the tarmac; video footage showed him climbing out of the plane near a gear area.
Alison Coyle, a spokeswoman for Hawaiian Airlines, declined to comment on the specific inspections the plane underwent before it left for Maui. But she said the jets are typically checked once by the maintenance crew — including a visual inspection of the wheel well — and once by the flight crew before takeoff.
Brian Jenkins, an aviation security expert at Rand Corp., said that only the boy would be able to fully account for his actions leading up to the flight. Though authorities have said that they would not pursue criminal charges, Jenkins said that from a security standpoint it would be important to thoroughly trace his steps.
“From where he went over the fence to where that plane was, where was he in between that period of time?” Jenkins said. “Was he in contact with other people? And does that represent another point of failure?”
As reporters swarmed the Santa Clara home where the teenager’s family reportedly lives, the boy spent Tuesday “resting comfortably” in a Hawaii hospital, said Kayla Rosenfeld of the state’s Department of Human Services. Officials with child welfare services, which now has custody of the teen, are making arrangements to send him home, she said.
Santa Clara Unified School District spokeswoman Jennifer Dericco confirmed that the teenager was a high school student in the district, but declined to say where, citing privacy concerns. She said district officials have been in contact with both the boy’s family and authorities.
“We’re working with them, and just making sure that he and his family and any of his peers have all the support that they need when he returns,” she said.
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