Valdosta Daily Times

National, International News

April 22, 2014

Stowaway teen forces review of airport security

SAN JOSE, Calif. — A 15-year-old boy found his way onto an airport’s tarmac and climbed into a jetliner’s wheel well, then flew for five freezing hours to Hawaii — a misadventure that forced authorities to take a hard look at the security system that protects the nation’s airline fleet.

The boy, who lives in Santa Clara, Calif., hopped out of the left rear wheel well of a Boeing 767 on the Maui airport tarmac Sunday, according to the FBI. Authorities found the high school student wandering the airport grounds with no identification. He was questioned by the FBI and taken by ambulance to a hospital, where he was found to be unharmed.

FBI spokesman Tom Simon in Honolulu said the teen climbed into the left rear wheel well of the first plane he saw in San Jose.

“He got very lucky that he got to go to Maui but he was not targeting Maui as a destination,” Simon said.

He passed out in the air and didn’t regain consciousness until an hour after the plane landed in Hawaii, Simon said. When he came to, he climbed out of the wheel well and was immediately seen by airport personnel who escorted him inside where he was interviewed by the FBI, Simon said.

It was not immediately clear how the boy stayed alive in the unpressurized space, where temperatures at cruising altitude can fall well below zero and the air is too thin for humans to stay conscious. An FAA study of stowaways found that some survive by going into a hibernation-like state.

On Monday, authorities tried to determine how the boy slipped through multiple layers of security, including wide-ranging video surveillance, German shepherds and Segway-riding police officers.

San Jose International Airport spokeswoman Rosemary Barnes says airport employees monitor security video feeds from throughout the 1,050-acre airport around the clock. However, she said no one noticed images of an unidentified person walking on the airport ramp and approaching Hawaiian Airlines Flight 45 in the dark until security agents reviewed the footage after the plane had landed in Hawaii and the boy had been found.

The airport, in the heart of Silicon Valley, is surrounded by fences, although some sections do not have barbed wire and could easily be scaled.

The boy found his way onto the tarmac during the night, “under the cover of darkness,” Barnes said.

Hours later, surveillance video at Kahului Airport showed the boy getting out of the wheel well after landing, according to a statement from Hawaii’s Department of Transportation. The video was not released because of the ongoing investigation.

Hawaiian Airlines spokeswoman Alison Croyle said airline personnel noticed the boy on the ramp after the flight arrived and immediately notified airport security.

“Our primary concern now is for the well-being of the boy, who is exceptionally lucky to have survived,” Croyle said.

Isaac Yeffet, a former head of security for the Israeli airline El Al who now runs his own firm, Yeffet Security Consultants, said the breach shows that U.S. airport security still has weaknesses, despite billions of dollars invested.

“Shame on us for doing such a terrible job,” he said. “Perimeters are not well protected. We see it again and again.”

A congressman who serves on the Homeland Security committee wondered how the teen could have sneaked onto the airfield unnoticed.

“I have long been concerned about security at our airport perimeters. (hash)Stowaway teen demonstrates vulnerabilities that need to be addressed,” tweeted Rep. Eric Swalwell, a Democrat who represents the San Francisco Bay Area’s eastern cities and suburbs.

Unlike checkpoint security inside the airport, which is overseen by the Transportation Security Administration, airport perimeters are policed by local authorities, as well as federal law enforcement.

Airport police were working with the FBI and the TSA to review security.

The boy was released to child-protective services in Hawaii and not charged with a crime, Simon said.

The city of San Jose, which owns and operates the California airport, is not planning on pursuing criminal charges against the teen based on the current information available.

The FAA says 105 stowaways have sneaked aboard 94 flights worldwide since 1947, and about 1 out of 4 survived. But agency studies say the actual numbers are probably higher, as some survivors may have escaped unnoticed, and bodies could fall into the ocean undetected.

In August, a 13- or 14-year-old boy in Nigeria survived a 35-minute trip in the wheel well of a domestic flight after stowing away. Authorities credited the flight’s short duration and its altitude of about 25,000 feet. Others who hid in wheel wells have died, including a 16-year-old killed aboard a flight from Charlotte, N.C., to Boston in 2010 and a man who fell onto a suburban London street as a flight from Angola began its descent in 2012.

An FAA review of high-altitude wheel well survivors said they typically clamber past the main landing gear into a wing recess area next to where the gear retracts. On some aircraft, that space is large enough for two small adults.

The FAA found that all wheel-well stowaways will lose consciousness at high altitude from lack of oxygen, and that their freezing bodies go into a state somewhat similar to hibernation. At 38,000 feet — the cruising altitude of the Hawaiian Airlines flight — the outside air temperature is about minus 85 degrees. That would usually be deadly, but some people survive because their breathing, heart rate and brain activity slow down.

1
Text Only
National, International News
  • AP4507280123 copy.jpg Today in History for Monday, July 28, 2014
    Today is Monday, July 28, the 209th day of 2014. There are 156 days left in the year. 
     

    July 28, 2014 1 Photo

  • Tentative deal reached on VA reform

    The chairmen of the House and Senate Veterans Affairs committees have reached a tentative agreement on a plan to fix a veterans’ health program scandalized by long patient wait times and falsified records covering up delays.

    July 27, 2014

  • United States-Libya_Rich.jpg US evacuates embassy in Libya amid clashes

    The United States shuttered its embassy in Libya on Saturday and evacuated its diplomats to neighboring Tunisia under U.S. military escort as fighting intensified between rival militias. Secretary of State John Kerry said “free-wheeling militia violence” prompted the move.

    July 27, 2014 1 Photo

  • AP9607270692 copy.jpg Today in History for Sunday, July 27, 2014

    Today is Sunday, July 27, the 208th day of 2014. There are 157 days left in the year.

    July 27, 2014 1 Photo

  • No ticket for Shrek over loud musical, chief says

    A musical being performed in a New Hampshire park has drawn some noise complaints, but the deputy police chief says he’s “not giving Shrek a ticket.”

    July 26, 2014

  • Arizona Execution Dru_Rich copy.jpg Arizona’s McCain: Execution was torture

    U.S. Sen. John McCain says the execution of an Arizona inmate that lasted two hours was torture.

    July 26, 2014 1 Photo

  • Ukraine Plane_Rich copy.jpg US: Russia firing into Ukraine

    Russia is launching artillery attacks from its soil on Ukrainian troops and preparing to move heavier weaponry across the border, the U.S. and Ukraine charged Friday in what appeared to be an ominous escalation of the crisis.
    Russia accused Washington of lying and charged Ukraine with firing across the border on a Russian village. It also toughened its economic measures against Ukraine by banning dairy imports.

    July 26, 2014 1 Photo

  • AP7107260254 copy.jpg Today in History for Saturday, July 26, 2014

    Today is Saturday, July 26, the 207th day of 2014. There are 158 days left in the year.

    July 26, 2014 1 Photo

  • Mideast Iraq_Rich copy.jpg Iraq elects new president amid attacks

    Iraqi lawmakers elected a veteran Kurdish politician on Thursday to replace long-serving Jalal Talabani as the country’s new president in the latest step toward forming a new government. But a series of attacks killed dozens of people and Islamic militants destroyed a Muslim shrine traditionally said to be the burial place of the Prophet Jonah, underscoring the overwhelming challenges facing the divided nation.

    July 25, 2014 1 Photo

  • Hong Kong Shutdown_Rich copy.jpg Hong Kong firms on edge as blockade looms

    As activists vow to shut down Hong Kong’s financial district in protest at China’s attempt to hobble democratic elections in the city, businessman Bernard Chan is preparing for the worst.

    July 25, 2014 1 Photo

Top News
Poll

Do you agree with the millage rate increases?

Yes. We need to maintain services
No. Services should have been cut.
     View Results