Teenage stowaway defies science to survive five-hour flight from California to Hawaii by hiding in jet's wheel well

The boy clambered into the wheel well of the Boeing 767 at San Jose airport after a family row - and was found unharmed on the tarmac at Maui airport in Hawaii five hours later

Authorities believe an American teenager found dazed and disoriented on the apron of Kahului airport in Maui survived a flight across the Pacific from California, stowed away inside the wheel well of a Hawaiian Airlines jet.

The story told by the so-far unidentified 16-year-old, who was released into state child-services care after being given the all-clear by doctors, is perplexing experts who argue that surviving the five-hour, 30-minute journey at altitudes of up to 38,000 feet - higher than Mount Everest - would seem humanly impossible.

Yet the FBI said yesterday that video footage showed him walking across the tarmac at the international airport in San Jose, south of San Francisco, early on Sunday towards the Boeing 767 wide-bodied plane before it took off for the Hawaiian island. The FBI added that Maui airport had security footage of the boy crawling out of the main port-side wheel-well.

Special Agent Tom Simon said the aircraft was on the ground for almost an hour when "dumbfounded" ground staff spotted the boy near the belly of the jet and approached him to ask who he was.

"The boy later claimed that he had run away after a family argument and hopped [over] the fence at the San Jose airport to reach the plane but had no recollection of the flight itself," said Mr Simon. "It's a miracle. It's amazing he survived."

The agent suggested that the teenager had been unconscious for "the lion's share of the flight" but there  was no shortage of sceptics last night.

"This is a first in medical science and a first in physiology, someone surviving at 35,000ft or higher for five hours with no supplementary oxygen," John Nance, an aviation consultant, told ABC News yesterday

He noted that, apart from the lack of oxygen at such an altitude, the temperature would have dropped to -62C. "I don't believe the kid was in the wheel well - that's what it comes down to," he insisted.

The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), however, said that there had been cases of people surviving  such ordeals because their bodies went into a kind of enforced hibernation.

Last August, a stowaway survived a domestic flight in Nigeria in a wheel well but it was much shorter and at a lower altitude.

After a stowaway fell out of the wheel well of a British  Airways flight from Angola and plunged into a street in East Sheen, near Heathrow, in 2010, a pathologist testified that he believed the  man may have been still alive when he fell, or at least until quite soon before.

Click HERE for full-size version of graphic (1024 px x 600 px)

While temperatures in the wheel well would have plummeted as the plane headed west to Hawaii, the FAA also suggested that the cold may have been moderated very slightly in the wheel well by stored heat in the tyres after they retracted, as well as from hydraulic lines in the area.

While the boy has not been charged with any crime in Hawaii, the FBI said it would investigate how he managed to penetrate the secure tarmac area at San Jose airport and climb into the Boeing without being detected.

Eric Swalwell, a member of Congress for California who sits on the Homeland Security Committee, said in a Twitter posting: "I have long been concerned about security at our airport perimeters. Stowaway teen demonstrates vulnerabilities that need to be addressed."

Police in San Jose said last night that they were looking at whether to file criminal charges against the boy.

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

Investigators say the boy fled his home in Santa Clara, California after a family argument. Security cameras caught him jumping over an airport fence and clambering into the undercarriage of the passenger jet.

Aviation expert Peter Forman told Hawaii News Now that the chances of surviving such conditions are "very remote".

'The odds of a person surviving that long of a flight at that altitude are very remote", he said. 

"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".

A spokesman for the FBI confirmed that the boy will not face criminal charges, and has been referred to child protective services.

California stowaway amazes doctors in Hawaii after five-hour flight

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Home Care / Support Workers

£7 - £10 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This care provider is looking for Home ...

Recruitment Genius: Web Team Leader

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's leading web des...

Recruitment Genius: Client Manager

£27000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A growing, successful, friendly...

Recruitment Genius: Property Negotiator - OTE £20,000+

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This family owned, independent ...

Day In a Page

Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

Greece referendum

Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

7/7 bombings anniversary

Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

Versace haute couture review

Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
No hope and no jobs, so Gaza's young risk their lives, climb the fence and run for it

No hope and no jobs in Gaza

So the young risk their lives and run for it
Fashion apps: Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers

Fashion apps

Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers
The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
Compton Cricket Club

Compton Cricket Club

Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

It helps a winner keep on winning
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate