Tuesday, April 22, 2014
This stowaway teen clung to plane's landing gear for five hours, braving temperatures of -62C... so how DID he survive?
16-year-old endured a lack of oxygen as aircraft reached 38,000ft
Conditions normally prove fatal but experts think his heart slowed
He was unconscious for most of the 2,000-mile journey
But some experts yesterday were suspicious of his story
The stowaway is understood to have been unconscious for most of the journey of more than 2,000 miles between California and Hawaii, and woke up around an hour after the plane landed.
He then jumped out of the undercarriage compartment and was found on the tarmac on the island of Maui. He was carrying nothing but a comb. Miraculously, medics declared him unharmed.
The boy, from Santa Clara, California, has not been named but it is understood he had run away from his parents following an argument.
FBI spokesman Tom Simon said: 'He doesn't even remember the flight. Kid's lucky to be alive. He was unconscious for the lion's share of the flight.'
Security footage shows the boy jumping over a perimeter fence at Mineta San Jose International Airport to get to the Hawaiian Airlines Flight 45 on Sunday morning.
He climbed into the undercarriage of the Boeing 767 and managed to avoid the wheels as they were retracted after take-off. But some experts yesterday were suspicious of his story, as most wheel well stowaways die from hypothermia or are killed by a lack of oxygen.
'Incredibly lucky' Teenager survived five hours in -62C
A stowaway plunged on to a street in Mortlake, Surrey, as a flight from Angola began its descent to Heathrow in 2012
Pilot talks about the teen stowaway's flight
It is thought that at 18,000ft, hypoxia sets in, causing weakness, tremors, light-headedness and visual impairment.
Above 33,000ft the lungs would usually require artificial pressure to function normally. Among the sceptics was ABC News aviation consultant John Nance, who said: 'This is a first in medical science and a first in physiology. I just don't believe it.'
Dr Richard Besser, the network's chief health and medical editor, said: 'It is near impossible, almost miraculous, and maybe there's more to the story.' To survive such conditions, the body has to fall into a hibernation-like state, he added.
The Federal Aviation Administration says the chances of survival in a wheel well are about 24 per cent.
Aviation expert Peter Forman called the boy's survival 'miraculous'. 'You are talking about altitudes that are well above the altitude of Mount Everest,' he said.
'A lot of people would only have useful consciousness for a minute or two at that altitude. I've never heard of anything like that before.' Hawaiian Airlines said staff noticed the boy on the ramp after the flight arrived.
Spokesman Alison Croyle said: 'Our primary concern now is for the well-being of the boy, who is exceptionally lucky to have survived.'
The teenager was questioned by the FBI but it is understood he was released to child protective services and will not face charges.
He was photographed yesterday sitting upright and alert as he was examined by medics. In August, a teenage boy in Nigeria survived a 35-minute trip in the wheel well of a domestic flight. Authorities credited his survival with the flight's short duration and altitude of about 25,000ft.
However, many have died in the attempt. One stowaway plunged on to a street in Mortlake, Surrey, as a flight from Angola began its descent to Heathrow in 2012.