L O S A N G E L E S, Aug. 5, 2000 -- A nearly frozen stowaway survived subzero temperatures and little oxygen at 38,000 feet inside the wheel well of a jumbo jet on an eight-hour flight from Tahiti.
The 6-foot, 180-pound man, who remains unidentified, was responding to treatment and communicating with doctors Friday, but he was covered with gear oil and moaning when paramedics arrived at Los Angeles International Airport Thursday night.
His core body temperature was 79 degrees Fahrenheit when he arrived at the UCLA Medical Center for treatment of hypothermia and dehydration, hospital spokesman David Langness said.
With the jet traveling 600 mph at 38,000 feet, the air temperature would have been below zero, “and who knows with the wind chill,” Langness said.
‘A Remarkable Story’
“His clothes were shredded from the wind, and he was covered with grease,” he said. “It is a remarkable story. We don’t know of any other person whose body temperature dropped this low who has survived.”
Anything below 85 degrees Fahrenheit is usually fatal, Langness said.
The man was moved Friday afternoon from the intensive care unit to a hospital ward floor, Langness said.
The man is able to write notes in French and English but responds indirectly when asked about his identity, Langness said. He cannot speak, and doctors are still testing his brain and organ functions.
Air France Flight 71 from Papeete, French Polynesia, arrived in Los Angeles. At the terminal gate, a maintenance worker spotted a blanket hanging from a wheel well on the Boeing 747-400 and notified authorities when he found the man.
Air France Responsible?
An Immigration and Naturalization Service spokeswoman said Friday that the agency considered Air France still responsible for the man’s custody.
“This individual, as any individual seeking to enter the United States, needs to undergo an eligibility investigation,” said Virginia Kice of the INS’ seven-state western regional office.
“The INS’ first concern is the health and well-being of this individual,” she said, adding that any Customs inspection or deportation process would wait until the man’s health was not at risk.
A call placed to Air France was answered by a recording.