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This is not a hoax: A teen stowaway really did survive a flight from California to Hawaii, FBI says


Law enforcement officials are not treating the incredible story of the 16-year old teenager who managed to stow himself away in the wheel well of a flight from San Jose, Calif. to Hawaii like a balloon boy hoax waiting to happen.

As unlikely as the tale is, the FBI is taking the young man at his word.

“The FBI Hawaii is done with it at this point, we’ve concluded our investigation,” FBI Honolulu spokesman Tom Simon said Monday. Simon said officials in Hawaii have “corroborated” the teen’s story, and he has been turned over to child protective services, with no charges filed.

End of story — at least when it comes to whether the tale makes sense to investigators.

It turns out the young man had no idea he was going to Hawaii. And he’s lucky that the choice of flight didn’t end up being catastrophic.

Medical hobbyists and experts are now free to deal with the more pressing issue of how anyone could reasonably survive a trans-Pacific flight where temperatures likely dropped to 80 degrees below zero at altitudes upwards of 26,000 feet.

The Washington Post’s Lenny Bernstein has more on that here:

The Santa Clara runaway “got cold enough to protect his brain, but not cold enough to stop his heart,” said Peter Hackett, director of the Institute for Altitude Medicine in Telluride, Colorado, who lectures world-wide on the effects of altitude on the body. He almost certainly spent the trip unconscious, with perhaps just enough heat in the wheel well to endure temperatures of 80 degrees below zero or worse, Hackett said.

“The body temperature drops and that cools the brain, and neuronal activity is suppressed. So the brain shuts down–it goes into what is almost like hibernation, without causing irreparable damage. And then, when it warms up, you can be normal.” It’s fairly common nowadays for doctors to cool the brain to protect it from damage after heart attacks, he said.

Indeed media reports say the young man emerged from the wheel well about an hour after the plane landed in Maui, conscious but unharmed, to the shock of the ground crew.

Abby Phillip is a general assignment national reporter for the Washington Post. She can be reached at On Twitter: @abbydphillip



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