Ministers have launched an urgent investigation following a catalogue of security errors which allowed a boy of 11 to fly alone to Rome after boarding a flight at Manchester Airport without a passport, boarding card or money.
Airport staff have been suspended after Liam Corcoran evaded five security checks and boarded the Jet2.com flight unaccompanied. The “stowaway” was only discovered when concerned passengers alerted the flight Captain.
The Wythenshawe boy, who had run away from his mother at a Manchester shopping centre three miles from the airport, was returned safely to his family, at the conclusion of his 3,000 mile round trip.
Justine Greening, the Transport secretary, said: "I take any breach of security, very, very seriously. So we are now investigating with Manchester Airport and, indeed the airline, to find out exactly what happened.”
A spokesperson for Jet2.com said: “We are fully investigating the incident as a matter of urgency and the staff involved have been suspended during this investigation.”
Liam’s adventure began when he evaded his mother and made his way to Terminal 1 at the airport, which was packed with holidaymakers. The boy, said to have a keen interest in planes and buses, “tail-gated” a family group as they passed through security.
He was scanned but security failed to realise he was on his own and had no boarding card. He headed to the gate where passengers were boarding the Monday afternoon Jet2.com flight LS791 to Rome. Liam passed through a further security check at the gate without being asked to show either a passport or a boarding card.
Cabin crew failed to check whether he had a boarding-card stub when he boarded the Boeing plane. It is believed that the crew failed to carry out an accurate headcount after Liam strapped himself into a spare seat.
The pilot, alerted by suspicious passengers, radioed back to Manchester, where police informed the boy’s mother that her son was safe - but on his way to Rome. He remained on board after landing at Fiumicino Airport and was returned on the next flight back.
Five members of staff working for Jet2.com have been suspended from duty while the investigation takes place.
The return flight was delayed by 80 minutes while the plane's crew were questioned by Italian border police. On this occasion, the elusive Corcoran was accompanied by airline staff who were sat with him.
Passenger Sarah Swayne, 26, from Nantwich, said: “He was very talkative and seemed quite un-fazed by it all. He was just sat there chatting away about how he’d been trying to run away from home. He seemed quite innocent really and I don’t think it had sunk in how serious the situation was.”
A Manchester Airport spokesman said: “This extremely serious matter is now being urgently investigated. It is clear that documentation has not been checked correctly at security and the boarding gate.
“The boy went through full security screening so the safety of passengers and the aircraft was never compromised.”
Ms Greening said the situation was “an unusual and serious breach and we are keen to find out what has gone on.”
Liam’s father, Aaron Fort, 34, said the boy had walked to the airport after his mother took him to a swimming lesson in Wythenshawe, during which he had become distressed and required the help of a lifeguard.
Fort said: “He must have got changed and given his mother the slip and then walked from the baths in Wythenshawe to the airport. Once there he seems to have mixed with some other children and followed them on the plane. I thought people should be counted on an off but that must not have been the case.” Fort added: “He has never had a passport, never been to Rome and never been abroad.”