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Don’t Try This Home – Flying the Unfriendly Skies

Photography of the jumbo jet wheel well stowaway being interrogated by policemen.

It’s a question puzzling medical experts — how did a 16-year-old boy survive a five-hour flight from San Jose, California, to Maui, Hawaii, in below freezing cold weather at oxygen-depleted heights without dying or falling out of the wheel well of a huge jumbo jet? Wonder if he had flight insurance? It’s a good bet if he had a driver’s license, odds are he wouldn’t bother with car insurance.

After the ground crew at Kahului Airport noticed the dazed and confused teen wandering on the tarmac, the boy was placed in the custody of child welfare services workers in Hawaii – but his breach of airport security has put airports throughout the country on alert.

Against all odds
Authorities stated it was a miracle the teenage stowaway survived his trip crammed in the wheel well – here’s what he had to deal with:

•    Very low oxygen content
•    Jet’s cruising altitude of 38,000 feet, dropping the temperature to 50 degrees below zero or lower.
•    Avoid being crushed as the wheels retracted
•    Maintain his position in the wheel well when the bay doors opened twice in the air.

According to Federal Aviation Administration records, since 1947, only 25 of the 105 people who have attempted to stow away in the wheel wells of planes, have survived the ordeal.  The temperature extremes and limited oxygen put survival time at just minutes.

Although being young likely worked in his favor, his stunt could leave him with serious medical problems:
•    Permanent brain damage
•    Neurological issues
•    Memory problems
•    Lower IQ
•    Frostbite
•    Kidney injury (particles of muscle enter a frozen body’s blood stream and damage the kidneys)

Security measures didn’t do the job
So how was a 16 year-old kid able to get around security efforts? What points did the security measures fail?
•    Climbed over a 6- to 8-foot fence with three strands of barbed wire.
•    Closed circuit security camera feed not being monitoring when the boy climbed into the landing gear.
•    Ground personnel saw nothing unusual.
•    Pilot who completed pre-flight inspection didn’t see the boy.

Bottom line? While this is an epic story of survival, it has shaken confidence and peace of mind in our airport security efforts. Have peace of mind over what you can protect, with good car insurance.

Do you think airport security can be improved? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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