Wheel-well stowaway teen sparks skeptics: how did he survive?

Apr 21, 2014
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Wheel-well stowaway teen sparks skeptics: how did he survive?

It would appear that today’s oddest story isn’t as cut-and-dry as it’s being reported. Sunday, the 20th of April, 2014, a 16-year-old boy is said by the FBI to have jumped over a fence near the San Jose, California airport, found his way into the wheel well of an airplane, and flew aboard a 5-hour flight to Maui. What’s strange - besides the fact that the boy did this at all - is the fact that it’s far more likely that a person would die in such an instance than live.

According to a 2003 article on Slate, a very similar situation took place in December of 2002. This case had a fellow by the name of Fidel Maruhi survive a flight from Pateete, Tahiti, to Los Angeles, California. This 7.5-hour flight resulted in Maruhi’s body temperature being discovered at 79-degrees, a temperature below that which is normally considered fatal for a human being.

According to ABC News’ chief health and medical editor Dr. Richard Besser, passing out is par for the course. Marihi passed out and didn’t remember the flight at all - the same is true for the 16-year-old boy from this Sunday’s flight. Besser notes this week that a person in this situation would have to fall into a hibernation-like state to survive, their heart beating just a couple times per minute for most of the flight.

According to a statement from the FAA today, there have been a recorded 105 stowaways on 94 flights worldwide. Of these, 24% of the stowaways survived - that’s 25 people that’ve made it through, 69 dead.

Most deaths result from lack of oxygen, results of intense cold, or from falling out of the wheel-well when wheels are deployed before landing. As the landing gear is generally deployed at right around 1,500 feet above ground - or water - falling out carries plenty chance of death.

So how did the boy from San Jose survive?

It could be that a warm pipe or air hose of some sort was close enough to keep his body temperature at a sustainable warmth. It could also be that this fellow is very, very good at hibernating. It’s also possible that he never took the flight at all, and that this is all some elaborate cover-up of some sort - we shall see!


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