A 16-year-old California boy flew halfway across the Pacific Ocean to Hawaii — unconscious — while stowed away in a Hawaiian Airlines flight wheel well, the FBI says. He’s alive.
That’s how it appears. But the story is so incredible that some are wondering if it is credible.
According to the FBI, security footage from the San Jose airport shows the boy hopping a fence Sunday morning to get to Hawaiian Airlines Flight 45.
He would have survived freezing temperatures of about 80 degrees below zero at an altitude of 38,000 feet, FBI spokesman Tom Simon in Honolulu told The Washington Post. The distance was roughly 2,300 miles.
“He’s lucky to be alive,” Simon said.
After the plane landed 5 ½ hours later at the Maui airport, he jumped down and started wandering around the airport grounds. He was discovered on the tarmac with no identification.
Airlines analyst Peter Forman talked with KHON-TV about the potential problems for such a flight:
“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 Mount 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 odds are so great that some experts are questioning the story, according to CNN:
“‘It sounds really incredible,’ said aviation expert Jeff Wise. ‘Being in a wheel well is like all of a sudden being on top of Mount Everest.’ Between the oxygen depletion and the cold, life expectancy ‘is measured in minutes,’ Wise said.
But some people have survived. A study by the Federal Aviation Administration looked at 10 wheel-well passenger stowaways between 1947 and 1993, involving flights as high as 39,000 feet. Five people survived. The conditions put them in a virtual ‘hibernative’ state, the report said.
Authorities don’t know who the boy is. He didn’t have an ID. The only thing he did have on him was a comb. He told authorities he was from Santa Clara, California, and ran away from home Sunday morning, said Simon. Investigators have surveillance camera footage of him hopping the fence at San Jose International Airport. There’s also camera footage of him walking across the ramp in San Jose toward the Hawaiian aircraft, the California airport said. He told investigators he crawled into the wheel well of the plane and lost consciousness when the plane took off.”
An hour after the plane landed at Kahului Airport, the boy regained consciousness and emerged to a “dumbfounded” ground crew, Simon said.
The Maui airport has video of him crawling out of the left main gear area.
Simon said the boy, a Santa Clara, Calif., runaway, was medically screened and found to be unharmed.
He was not charged with a federal crime in Hawaii, Simon said, but he was referred to child protective services.
As for the wild ride: “Doesn’t even remember the flight,” Simon told The Associated Press. “It’s amazing he survived that.”