The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

15-year-old jet plane stowaway wanted to see family in Africa but wound up in Maui

Placeholder while article actions load

Experts are still trying to figure out how that 15-year-old boy managed to survive a 2,300-mile flight in a Hawaiian Airlines wheel well. But, in bits and pieces, a story is emerging about why he may have had a reason to try.

The teen, who wound up in Maui, may have been trying to see relatives in Africa.

Abdilahi Yusuf Abdi, who said he is the boy’s father, told Voice of America on Wednesday that his son — a Somalian refugee — misses Africa and talks about going back. His grandparents still live there, he said.

The teen immigrated to San Diego with his father and stepmother about four years ago before moving to the Bay Area, sources told the San Jose Mercury News. Abdi said the teen, who is learning English, did not receive an education in Africa and is struggling in his classes here. He had just been transferred five weeks ago to a new school, Santa Clara High School.

“Since we came here he had learning challenges at school,” Abdi told VOA. “He was not good at math and science and I think he had a lot of education problems bothering him.”

Maui Airport manager Marvin Moniz told ABC News he talked to the teen and learned he was upset about an argument he had with his father and stepmother. He was wanted to visit his mother who reportedly lives in Somalia. He has not seen her since he was 2 years old, Hawaii News Now reported.

Security footage shows the teen hopping the fence at San Jose’s airport after 1 a.m. Sunday, according to the FBI. The teen told Moniz he climbed up into the first plane he saw — Hawaiian Airlines Flight 45, where he hid for about seven hours before takeoff.

“He didn’t know anything until we told him he was in Maui,” Moniz told ABC News. “’You’re in Hawaii.’ So he was like, ‘Oh, OK.’”

At an altitude of 38,000 feet, temperatures would have been well below zero and the air so starved of oxygen he likely passed out. Experts say that his body could have entered a hibernation-like state. Federal Aviation Administration figures show that such a feat has a 76 percent death rate, the Mercury News reported.

“When I watched the analysis about the extraordinary and dangerous trip of my son on local TVs and that Allah had saved him, I thanked God and I was very happy,” Abdi told VOA.

Footage of his arrival in Maui shows the teen dangling his feet for about 15 seconds from the wheel well before jumping 8 to 10 feet to the ground, landing on his feet and immediately collapsing, Moniz told The Associated Press.

Wearing a San Francisco Giants hoodie, the teen staggered toward the front of the plane and asked a ramp agent for a drink of water, which set in motion a series of questions from federal and local law enforcement, the AP reported.

Abdi said he first received the news in a phone call from the Hawaii department police.

“They tried to explain to me about the stowaway and the plane story,” he told VOA. “I got confused, and asked them to call the San Jose police department, which later explained to me how things happened.”

The teen is at a Honolulu children’s hospital under the care of Child Welfare Services, the Mercury News reported. Hawaii Department of Human Services spokeswoman Kayla Rosenfeld told reporters that Child Welfare Services was arranging his return home.

He has not been charged with any federal crime and is not expected to face charges in Santa Clara County.