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Experts: How did stowaway teen spend hours undetected at airport?

Security experts say it's important to thoroughly trace what transpired over the approximately six-hour period that a 15-year-old apparently went undetected at Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International Airport before stowing away in the wheel well of a Hawaiian Airlines jetliner traveling to Maui.

According to a federal law enforcement source who spoke to The Times on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to comment on the case, a security camera at the airport recorded video of a person coming over a perimeter fence at the airport just after 1 a.m. Sunday.

The Hawaiian Airlines flight didn't take off until about six hours later, indicating that the boy apparently went undetected for hours. 

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."

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 will not pursue criminal charges in the case, Jenkins said it would be important to thoroughly trace the teen's steps from a security standpoint.

"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?"

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 shot "during darkness."

"Certainly we're reviewing what happened and what we can learn from this," Barnes said.

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 the temperature could have dropped to 50 degrees below zero or lower.

Officials said the boy was unconscious during much of the flight, waking up only after the Boeing 767 touched down at Kahului Airport.

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 to Santa Clara, she said.


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