Airplane Stowaways Expose Glaring Breach in Airport Security

A high percentage of stowaways have died in tranist.

April 21, 2014— -- The chances of surviving a flight from inside the wheel well of an airliner are incredibly small.

Today, one California teen beat the odds -- living to tell his stowaway tale.

On Sunday, a 15-year-old from California breached the security fence at San Jose International Airport and boarded a Hawaiian Airlines flight to Maui.

When the plane touched down five hours later, the boy was unconscious inside the wheel well. An hour later, he came to and was seen walking along the tarmac.

Hawaiian Airlines released a statement calling the stowaway ‘exceptionally lucky to have survived.’

Dr. Richard Besser, ABC News’ chief health and medical editor, said the boy’s survival was ‘almost miraculous.’ But other stowaways in the past have not been so lucky, with many wondering just how these unconventional passengers are able to get past airport security.

RELATED: Teen 'Lucky' to Be Alive After Stowing Away on Calif.-Hawaii Flight

Homesick for his parents in Texas and too cheap to buy an airline ticket, Charles McKinley, a former shipping clerk, boxed himself in a crate and airmailed himself home in 2003.

After an 18-hour journey, McKinley made it successfully to his parents' home in Texas, where he was eventually arrested. Another man trying also trying to get home wasn't so successful.

Harvard sophomore B.J. Averell jumped the boarding line at Logan International Airport in Boston in 1999, and hid in the plane's tiny bathroom where he hoped to stay until it took off. Passengers tipped off a flight attendant just before takeoff.

Unfortunately, many other stories of stowaways traveling in unusual and unsafe ways have ended in death.

According to Federal Aviation Administration statistics, from 1947 to January 2014, there have been 103 reported stowaway attempts involving 92 flights, and 76.7 percent of stowaway passengers have died in transit.

A common and incredibly dangerous choice of transportation for stowaways is sneaking into the wheel well of a plane. With no heat, no oxygen, and no pressurization, the journey often ends in death.

"Best case scenario: someone is going to be light-headed," J. Joseph, an aviation consultant, told ABC News' "20/20." "You're going to have a loss of faculties, the thought process."

RELATED: Why Incredible Story of Stowaway Teen Is Raising Eyebrows

Delvonte Tisdale, 16, was a stowaway who ended up in the wheel well of a US Airways flight from Charlotte, N.C., bound for Boston, Mass., in 2010.

"[He's] never been on an airplane before. I couldn't even get him on a roller coaster," Tisdale's mother Jonette Washington told "20/20."

Tisdale's body was later found in Milton, Mass. "He literally came crashing down into a street in a suburb of Boston," Christopher Chestnut, Tisdale family attorney, told "20/20." "His body was in such bad shape, the only way his dad could identify his body was because of the waves in his hair."

Security cameras in Charlotte never spotted Tisdale at the airport. However, investigators in Massachusetts found his fingerprint in the left wheel of a US Airways plane, his tattered clothing showing signs of airplane grease, and a glaring breach of airport security in Charlotte.

"We sent investigators down. They said, 'You know there's a hole in the fence?'" Congressman Bill Keating, the district attorney on the Delvonte Tisdale investigation, told "20/20." "Security was...awful."

Keating said his investigation found that Tisdale was indeed able to breach security and stowaway on a plane.

"What if he was a terrorist? What if he had a bomb?" Chestnut said.

"In others, you could do what Delvonte Tisdale did and go in there undetected and actually stowaway on that airline," Keating said.

Tisdale's grieving mother still wonders why her son made the tragic decision of stowing away on a plane.

"It's hard to think about what could've been," Washington said.

"All I know is he's gone way too early."

This story has been updated to reflect a change in the age of the stowaway teen, who authorities previously said was 16 years old.