Speed Reads

Leaving on a jet plane

'Exceptionally lucky' teenager survives flight to Hawaii in airplane wheel well

CC by: Aero Icarus

There may be certain instances where it's worth the risk of dying to hitch a ride in the wheel well of a passenger jet — say, gunmen are after you — but taking a pleasure trip to Hawaii doesn't make the list. On Sunday, an unidentified 16-year-old jumped a fence at California's San Jose Mineta International Airport, climbed up the wheel well of a departing Hawaiian Airlines flight, and miraculously jumped out after the plane landed in Maui five and a half hours later. Maui airport officials spotted him and informed the FBI.

"How he survived I don't know," said the FBI's Honolulu spokesman Tom Simon. "It's a miracle." The boy, a runaway from Santa Clara, survived temperatures of minus 80 degrees and an oxygen-starved altitude of 38,000 feet. "I imagine he must have blacked out at about 10,000 feet," Simon added. "The air is pretty thin up there."

The teenager was turned over to the Hawaiian child welfare department, but not charged with any crimes. "Our primary concern now is the well-being of the boy, who is exceptionally lucky to have survived," said Hawaiian Airlines spokeswoman Alison Croyle. The FAA says that wheel-well stowaways are aided a bit by residual heat from hydraulic lines and wheels, but that the main mechanism for survival is your body shutting down as the plane gradually ascends and descends.

Still, people can and do die from riding in wheel wells. It seems a better idea to mow lawns or babysit until you have plane fare, right?