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Teen survives California to Hawaii flight in wheel well; experts raise doubts

A teen stowed away in the wheel well of a flight from California to Hawaii survived the trip, FBI officials said. (The Maui News/Chris Sugidono)
April 20, 2014 12:00:00 AM PDT
Authorities say a 15-year-old boy stowed away in the wheel well of a flight from California to Hawaii on Sunday, survived the trip across the Pacific Ocean unharmed despite frigid temperatures at 38,000 feet and a lack of oxygen.

The boy, who is from Santa Clara, Calif., says he went to the airport following an argument with his family. It was originally reported the boy is 16; ABC News confirmed the boy is 15.

Many skeptics were questioning whether the incident was even possible. The FBI says there is security footage from the Mineta San Jose International Airport that verified the boy hopped over fence, walked toward Hawaiian Airlines Flight 45, and crawled into the wheel well Sunday morning.

The boy allegedly told investigators he lost consciousness when the plane took off. He then allegedly rode in the tiny cramped compartment for five hours.

After the plane landed in Maui, he regained consciousness and emerged to a dumbfounded ground crew virtually unharmed.

"You're talking about altitudes that are well above the altitude of Mount Everest and temperatures that can reach 40 degrees below zero," said aviation analyst Peter Forman. "A lot of people would only have useful consciousness for a minute or two up 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."

Maui Airport says it has video of him crawling out of the left main gear area. His misadventure immediately raised security questions about how the teenager could have snuck onto the San Jose Airport airfield unnoticed.

Airport police were working with the FBI and the Transportation Security Administration to review security at the San Jose facility as part of an ongoing investigation.

"Our primary concern now is for the well-being of the boy, who is exceptionally lucky to have survived," Hawaiian Airlines spokeswoman Alison Croyle said.

The teenager, whose name was not released, has not been charged with a federal crime. He was turned over to child protective services.

In August, a boy in Nigeria survived a 35-minute trip in the wheel well of a domestic flight after stowing away. Others stowing away in wheel wells have died.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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