Hawaii flight stowaway: Landing gear may have saved him from freezing
A teenager who apparently stowed away on a Hawaiian Airlines flight from San Jose to Maui may have stayed warm because of the plane’s landing gear, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.
Heat from the plane’s hydraulic lines in the wheel well, as well as heat retained in the tires, could have helped the stowaway survive as the aircraft climbed to altitudes with sub-zero temperatures, the FAA reported.
In addition, the plane’s steady climb to high altitudes may allow a person to drift into unconsciousness as oxygen becomes scarce. And as the heat dissipates from the wheel well, a stowaway can develop hypothermia, a condition that preserves the central nervous system. Both hypoxia and hypothermia may resolve as the plane gradually descends for landing, the FAA said.
Authorities are still investigating how much of this came into play with a 16-year-old who was found on the tarmac at Maui’s Kahului Airport on Sunday morning.
Authorities say security video shows the teen from Santa Clara hopping a fence at San Jose’s Mineta International Airport and climbing into the wheel well of Hawaiian Airlines Flight 45.
The teen emerged in Maui after enduring freezing temperatures and a lack of oxygen as the flight reached an altitude of 38,000 feet, an FBI official said.
“How he survived, I don’t know,” said Tom Simon, an FBI spokesman based in Honolulu. “It’s a miracle.”
The teen was unconscious most of the flight, Simon said, during which temperatures were estimated to have reached 80 degrees below zero during the approximately 5-1/2-hour journey.
“I imagine he must have blacked out at about 10,000 feet,” he said. “The air is pretty thin up there.”
The plane landed at Maui’s Kahului Airport at 10:30 a.m. local time on Sunday, but Simon said the teen did not regain consciousness for an additional hour. Once he woke up, he hopped down to the tarmac.
Hawaiian Airlines personnel noticed the teen on a ramp and notified security, airline spokeswoman Alison Croyle said in a statement released Sunday night.
“Our primary concern now is the well-being of the boy, who is exceptionally lucky to have survived,” the statement said.
Simon said the teen had run away from home. There was no indication that he posed a threat to the airline, and he has not been charged with a crime, officials said.
He cleared a medical checkup and was handed over to officials from the Hawaii Department of Human Services. Officials did not release his name because he is a minor.
Rosemary Barnes, a spokeswoman at the San Jose airport, said the FBI and Transportation Security Administration were investigating how the teen breached security and made it onto the plane but could provide no further comment.
The teen’s case is extreme, but it’s not the first time a stowaway has survived a flight in the wheel well of an aircraft.
In August 2013, a teenage boy from Nigeria endured a 35-minute trip in the wheel well of a domestic flight that landed in Lagos. Officials credited the trip’s short flight time and relatively low altitude with helping him survive.
On another occasion, a stowaway managed to survive a flight from Havana to Madrid, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.
But in 2012, the body of a 26-year-old stowaway was found crumpled on a suburban London street. Officials believe he had climbed aboard a British Airways plane in Angola and was either dead or near death as he fell from the wheel well during the plane’s descent into Heathrow Airport.
The view from Sacramento
For reporting and exclusive analysis from bureau chief John Myers, get our California Politics newsletter.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.