MIAMI —A 16 year old male reportedly survived a flight from San Jose to Maui in the wheel well of a Boeing 767. He was unharmed.
According to reports, the male hopped a fence at San Jose International and boarded Hawaiian Airlines flight 45 Sunday morning–via the wheel well. Five hours and fifteen minutes later, the 767 landed in Maui, where the stowaway sprung out of the well and began wandering around the ramp.
Authorities quickly apprehended the man, and took him to a nearby hospital. Besides being unconscious for the majority of the flight, including up to an hour after landing, he was otherwise found to be unharmed.
Which, if true, is pretty phenomenal. The odds are not stacked in favor of those who attempt such feats. The first matter of business is, of course, boarding the airplane. Which means evading security. Which apparently is not all that tight at San Jose.
The second is take-off and climb out. Those wheels start to cycle up into the belly of the plane only a few hundred feet after departure. And for many stowaways, this marks the end of their journey. Why? The wheel wells barely have enough space to fit the wheels, never mind the wheels plus a human. Failure to contort into the perfect spot will lead to being crushed in fairly short order.
For those that make it past the second hurdle, the third and fourth often proves too much to handle. Unlike the cabin and cargo holds, wheel wells are not heated or pressurized. That means the stowaway has little to protect them from the extreme cold of up to -50F, nor the lack of oxygen at 38,000 feet. Consequently many attempts end in either asphyxiation/hypoxia and/or freezing to death.
Even if one slays the aforementioned obstacles, there’s still the matter of landing. While the wheels remain safely tucked up into the airplane in flight, they have to eventually come down at some point – and they do so without warning. Thus many stowaways fall out, due either to being blacked out and thus unable to hold on, or because they were unprepared for the gear deployment.
Despite the exceptionally long odds, surviving such a journey is not impossible. Out of the roughly 100 known people that have attempted to hitch a ride in the wheel wells of various airplanes since 1947, 25 or so have survived according to the FAA. The majority of those survivors have low flying planes on short flights to thank.
A few have survived longer flights, however. In 2000, Fidel Maruhi managed to live through the seven plus hour flight from Papeete to Los Angeles hiding aboard an Air France Boeing 747. In 2002 a man survived a flight from Cuba to Montreal, with a heated pipe inside the well to thank. The FAA additionally noted heat from the tires and hydraulics enabled prevented completely freezing to death. Still, both men were discovered inside the airplane in bad shape, suffering from severe frostbite and other injuries.
By all accounts, this young man should’ve ended up one of at least two things, both of which begin with the letter P: pancake, or popsicle (pancaked popsicle is also a likely option). The only folks who’ve survived similar journeys certainly weren’t walking around the ramp after arrival. Our weekend stowaway, however, managed to survive his five hour adventure apparently completely unharmed.
The odds of such an outcome are so mind-bogglingly staggering that it makes it exceptionally hard to believe. Admittedly it seems far more likely that he snuck into the heated, oxygen-filled cargo hold or avionics bay instead (both, it should be noted, are also extremely unlikely). So far, though, the wheel well appears to be the truth, as far fetched as it seems. In which case this guy’s next flight should be to Vegas, because he’s clearly got a whole lot of luck on his side.