How Did A Boy Who Hid In A Plane’s Wheel Well Survive A 5-Hour Flight At 38,000 Feet?

A 16-year-old boy scrambled over a fence at the airport, crossed a tarmac and climbed into a jetliner's wheel well, then flew for five freezing hours, at the altitude of 38,000 feet and arriving in Hawaii before anyone noticed.

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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. He’s alive.

A 16-year-old boy stowed away in the wheel well of a flight from California to Hawaii on Sunday, surviving the trip halfway across the Pacific Ocean unharmed despite frigid temperatures at 38,000 feet and a lack of oxygen, FBI and airline officials said.

But the story of the boy surviving the frigid temperatures at 38,000 feet and lack of oxygen is so incredible that some are wondering if it is credible

This is a 767-300 aircraft - the same model that the teen boy managed to stow himself away in

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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.

FBI officials have described that during the flight, which reached altitudes of 38,000 feet, the boy was subjected to "frigid temperatures" and "a lack of oxygen". Speaking to Associated Press, FBI spokesman Tom Simon explained: "Kid's lucky to be alive. He was unconscious for the lion's share of the flight. Doesn't even remember the flight... It's amazing he survived that."

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.

According to Peter Forman, airlines analyst, who 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:

This is the first picture of the 16-year-old boy who traveled from San Jose, California to Maui, Hawaii on Sunday

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'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.

Since 1947, 105 people are known to have stowed away in wheel wells, and 25 of them survived, according to the FAA's Civil Aerospace Medical Institute

The FAA says 105 stowaways have sneaked aboard 94 flights worldwide since 1947.

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In many of those cases, the flights were shorter and at lower altitudes, so this boy's story is certainly one of the more incredible. The Hawaii-bound flight flew as high as to 38,000 feet. Stowing away on that flight would be like ascending past the top of Mt. Everest and back down in a few hours. Some experts have expressed incredulity at his survival, but security camera footage seems to corroborate his story.

But how does a 16-year-old even sneak on to an airport and a plane to begin with?

The 16-year-old somehow survived unharmed while stowed in the wheel well

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The 16-year-old apparently hitched a ride from San Jose, California, to Maui in the landing-gear wheel well of a Boeing 767, Hawaiian Airlines said. The boy told authorities he was from Santa Clara, California, and ran away from home Sunday morning, said FBI Special Agent Tom Simon. He didn't have an ID and was carrying only a comb.

He hopped an airport fence, ran to the plane and climbed on, the FBI said. "It appears that this teenager scaled a section of our perimeter," Mineta San Jose International Airport spokeswoman Rosemary Barnes told CNN. The boy "was able to proceed onto our ramp under cover of darkness and enter the wheel well of an aircraft."

Officials for the city of San Jose, which operates the airport, are not planning any legal action, Barnes said Monday. Once they were confident that the teen did not present a threat, the FBI dropped out of the investigation. The boy is in the custody of child welfare services workers in Hawaii, said Kayla Rosenfeld, a spokeswoman for the state's Department of Human Services. She said Monday afternoon that officials have notified the boy's family that he is safe.

How did no one notice him?

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Surveillance camera footage shows the boy hopping the fence at the San Jose airport, the FBI said. There's also camera footage of him walking across the ramp in San Jose toward the Hawaiian aircraft, the airport said. Video "is under review by federal and local law enforcement officials here," Barnes said. "And we'll continue to review that to determine where, in fact, the teenager was able to scale the fence line."

The boy 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, the FBI's Simon said. The Maui airport has video of him crawling out of the left main gear area. "It makes no sense to me," Simon said.

Mavin Moniz, the Maui District airport manager, added that a worker saw the boy come out of the wheel well and walk toward the front of the aircraft. "Clearly there's a big security breach here, which in the post 9/11 world order is a concern," said Kay. To get past all sorts of people apparently unnoticed is "a physical feat," he said.

But how did he not get crushed or fall from the wheel well?

A 16-year-old boy scrambled over a fence at the airport, crossed a tarmac and climbed into a jetliner's wheel well, then flew for five freezing hours, arriving in Hawaii before anyone noticed

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It's not hard at all" to climb inside the wheel well, said Jose Wolfman Guillen, a ground operations coordinator at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport. "You can grab onto the struts and landing gear assembly kind of like a ladder, and you just jump on the tire and climb into the wheel well." Inside, there's not much room -- even less than in the trunk of a car, Guillen said. A stowaway would need to guess "where the tire is going to fold in when it closes after takeoff. There's a high risk of getting crushed once the gear starts going in."

During the flight, "the interior guts of the aircraft, they're pretty exposed inside the wheel well, so there's a lot of stuff you can hold on to," Guillen adds. "It's just a matter of holding on to it for the duration of the flight and maintaining your grip when the gear opens up and not falling out. If you fell out, you could get horribly mangled or dragged on the runway." It's possible for a stowaway to enter other parts of the plane through a wheel well, though complicated, Guillen said. It would require know-how.

"On a 767 and other wide bodies, there are small latched doors that a very small and fit person can (use to) access the wheel wells for maintenance. You could access the passenger cabin from the wheel wells, but again, some knowledge of the anatomy of the aircraft is required. I wouldn't know how to do it."

According to a CNN report, two similar incidents have occurred in past

In February 2014, crews at Dulles International Airport in suburban Washington found the body of a man inside the landing-gear wheel well of an Airbus A340 operated by South African Airways. In 2010, a 16-year-old boy died after he fell out of the wheel well of a US Airways flight that was landing at Boston's Logan International Airport.

The most recent known case of someone surviving was on a short domestic flight in Nigeria

A 15-year-old boy snuck into the wheel well of a flight from Benin City to Lagos -- thinking it was a flight to the United States, according to an FAA report. The ride lasted only 35 minutes, and the plane likely went no higher than 25,000 feet.

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