Teen stowaway survives in wheel well of Hawaiian Airlines flight

Update Apr. 22, 7:03 p.m.: Authorities say a 15-year-old boy climbed into the wheel well of a Hawaiian Airlines plane because he was trying to get to Somalia to see his mother.

While the teen’s identity has not been publicly released, a classmate of his says he recently transferred to Santa Clara High School and was very quiet.

“I was really shocked, you know, and just really glad that he made it and he’s alright right now,” said classmate Emanuell Golla. “I’m just really worried about his family.”

Update Apr. 22, 4:23 p.m.: Hawaiian Airlines has released the following statement:

“Before an aircraft is put into service, safety and security inspections are conducted by Hawaiian Airlines vendor maintenance personnel to visually review any compartment accessible from the ground, including the wheel well. This is standard operating procedure. Cockpit crews also conduct exterior walk-arounds at the gate to perform system checks prior to departure. The wheel well is not included as part of this checklist. At this time, the wheel well doors are closed and the area is not visible.

Our process meets or exceeds TSA requirements and industry standards. Hawaiian and its contractors responsible for handling our aircraft in San Jose will continue to assist government agencies in their investigation of this incident.”

Read more: Airline inspections, surveillance protocols under scrutiny


Update Apr. 22, 12:42 p.m.: This photo, courtesy of The Maui News, reportedly shows the wheel well compartment the teen stowaway stayed in on Hawaiian Airlines Flight 45 from San Jose to Kahului.


Update Apr. 22, 11:14 a.m.: The Hawaii Department of Human Services says:

“The 15 year-old youth (age confirmed by the FBI) who stowed away Sunday in the wheel well of a Hawaiian Airlines jet is resting comfortably at a local hospital. Currently in the custody of the Hawaii Department of Human Services, Child Welfare Services officials continue to work with the appropriate agencies to ensure the youth’s safe return to his home in California.”

Read more: State to cover expenses for teen stowaway with federal help


Update Apr. 21, 6:26 p.m.: The FBI says it will not pursue any charges after a 15-year-old boy scaled a fence at Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International Airport and wedged himself into the wheel well of a Hawaiian Airlines plane on a flight to Kahului.

“It is quite a tight space, but he wasn’t that big of a boy and he seems to be a pretty agile individual, so I’m sure he was able to worm his way into a corner and be able to fit,” said Maui Airports Manager Marvin Moniz.

Rosemary Barnes, a spokesperson for San Jose International Airport defended the airport’s security measures, saying “no system is 100 percent and it is possible to scale an airport perimeter fence line, especially under cover of darkness and remain undetected and it appears that’s what this teenager did.”

Read more: Hawaii airport officials address security concerns after stowaway


Update Apr. 21, 4:09 p.m.: Photos and video from The Maui News/Chris Sugidono show the teen being treated by emergency officials at Kahului Airport.


Update Apr. 21, 3:46 p.m.: This video was taken inside the wheel well of a decommissioned Hawaiian Airlines McDonnell Douglas DC-9 at Honolulu Community College’s Aeronautics Maintenance and Commercial Aviation facility. The DC-9 is smaller than a Boeing 767.


Update Apr. 21, 1:27 p.m.: A person could stay warm in the wheel well of an airplane, depending on several factors, including the radiation of heat from the passenger compartment, explains Brian Isaacson, assistant professor of aeronautics maintenance technology, Honolulu Community College. Isaacson says the wheel well compartment contains a lot of electronic equipment and is also where the landing gear folds into, so a person could easily get crushed. It’s a compact space, like a walk-in closet and easily accessible from the exterior — a person would have to climb the landing gear to get in, he says.

Read more: Teen stowaway faced numerous risks on flight


Update Apr. 21, 1:08 p.m.: Below is a statement from the Hawaii DOT Airports Maui District Manager. The teen is currently in the custody of the state of Hawaii Department of Human Services, Child Welfare Services Branch.

Statement by Maui Airports District Manager Marvin Moniz:

“On Sunday, April 20, a juvenile male was found walking on the Tarmac at Kahului Airport just prior to 11:30 a.m.  The teen appeared disoriented and was questioned by a worker near the plane who alerted security.  TSA and the FBI were also contacted.  Surveillance  video at Kahului Airport showed what appeared to be the boy exiting from the wheel well of  a plane from San Jose, California, that had landed in Kahului, Maui, at about 10:30 a.m.  The boy was treated by airport and county medics and then transported to a Maui hospital.  He has since been taken into the custody of  the state of Hawaii Department of Human Services, Child Welfare Services Branch.”

Due to the ongoing investigation, surveillance video will not be released.


UPDATE Apr. 21, 10:37 a.m.: According to the Federal Aviation Administration, from 1947-2014, including the April 20 incident, there have been 94 flights involving 105 people who stowed away worldwide.

Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International Airport
Kahului Airport

Of those 105 people, 80 died and 25 survived. The 80 people who died represent 76.2 percent of the 105 and the 25 people represent a 23.8 percent survival rate.

The last known survivor of a stowaway incident was in August 2013 on a domestic flight within Nigeria, Africa. The last fatality was found at Dulles International Airport in February 2014. The flight traveled from Johannesburg, South Africa on February 12, 2014 and then on to Dakkar, Senegal, and landed at Dulles on February 14, 2014.


UPDATE Apr. 21, 8:51 a.m.: Statement from state Department of Human Services:

“A 15-year-old boy who stowed away Sunday in the wheel well of a Hawaiian Airlines jet that traveled from San Jose, Calif., to Maui has been released to the State of Hawaii Department of Human Services, Child Welfare Services Branch. Officials have notified the boy’s family that he is safe. The CWS Branch will enlist the help of all necessary agencies to ensure the child’s safe return to his home in California.”


UPDATE Apr. 21, 7:20 a.m.: A 15-year-old apparently hitched a ride from California to Hawaii in a plane’s landing-gear wheel well.

Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International Airport
Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International Airport

Now, the FBI is is investigating the boy’s story.

The boy told investigators he lost consciousness when the plane took off.

He says he regained consciousness after it landed.

Investigators have surveillance video of the boy hopping the fence at San Jose’s airport.

“At this time the surveillance video is under review by federal and local law enforcement officials here, and we’ll continue to review that to determine where in fact the teenager was able to scale the fence line,” Mineta San Jose International Airport Spokeswoman Rosemary Barnes said.

Everyone agrees he’s lucky to be alive but some experts are questioning the boy’s story.

Between oxygen depletion and the cold, most people would not survive the five-hour flight.

The boy hasn’t been charged with a federal crime.


Posted Apr. 20, 2014: Aviation experts call it a miracle.

The FBI says a 15-year-old boy stowed away in the wheel well of a flight from California to Hawaii, and survived. The boy is expected to fully recover.

Photo: Chris Sugidono, The Maui News
Photo: Chris Sugidono, The Maui News

Hawaiian Airlines Flight 45 left San Jose at 7:50 a.m. this morning, and arrived on Maui at 10:31 p.m. five-and-a-half hours later.

The FBI says security video verifies the teen hopped a fence at the Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International Airport to get to the Hawaiian Airlines Boeing 767 aircraft this morning.

The teen, who is from Santa Clara, had run away from his family.

Aviation experts say the teen put himself at great risk.

Airlines analyst Peter Forman:

“The odds of a person surviving that long of a flight at that altitude are very remote, actually. I mean, you are talking about altitudes that are well above the altitude of Mt. Everest. And temperatures that can reach 40 degrees below zero. A lot of people would only have useful consciousness for a minute or two at that altitude. For somebody to survive multiple hours with that lack of oxygen and that cold is just miraculous. I’ve never heard of anything like that before.”

The boy told authorities he passed out as the plane ascended, then regained consciousness about an hour before landing.

Hawaiian Airlines says their workers at Kahului Airport noticed the teen on the ramp after the flight arrived and immediately notified airport security.

The FBI says he was dazed and confused, with no identification on him.

Hawaiian Airlines said in a statement:

“Our primary concern now is for the wellbeing of the boy, who is exceptionally lucky to have survived. Hawaiian and its contractors responsible for handling our aircraft in San Jose are ready to assist various government agencies in their investigation of this incident.”

The FBI says no federal charges will be filed against the teen.

He was taken to Maui Memorial Medical Center to get checked out, and he has been turned over to Child Protective Services.

Authorities are not releasing his name because he is a minor.

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