A 15-year-old stowaway who survived a flight over the Pacific in a jet's wheel well spent seven hours undetected in the plane before the jetliner took off.
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The teen, the son of a California cab driver, is a junior at Santa Clara High School. He reportedly moved to the school this year.
Student Emanuael Golla said the student is shy.
“He really didn’t speak that much,” Golla said. “We were all surprised at what happened. We really didn’t believe it was him.”
The teen told authorities he left home after a fight with his father and step-mother. He scaled a fence at the San Jose Airport at about 1 a.m. Sunday, hiding in the Hawaiian Airlines 767 wheel well for nearly seven hours before the plane took off at 7:55 a.m.
While it's not clear how the teen spent all that time, FBI spokesman Tom Simon in Honolulu said the teen was sleeping in the plane before takeoff. He "literally just slept on the plane overnight," Simon said.
The boy told authorities that he chose the specific plane because it was the closest one. The teen’s actions were caught on tape, but were undetected by security.
Once the plane landed in Maui, officials said airport surveillance video captured the boy crawling out of the wheel well. Authorities believe the boy survived the five-plus hour flight, despite little oxygen and temperatures of at least -50 degrees.
Maui Airports District Manager Marvin Moniz said he spoke with the stowaway after airport employees found him wandering the tarmac. He said the teen told him he hadn’t seen his biological mother since he was 2 years old and that he wanted to go see her. It’s not clear if that was the purpose of the teen’s incredible journey.
The boy was resting Tuesday at a Honolulu hospital. Hawaii's Department of Human Services said child welfare officials were arranging his safe return to California.
The big concern this morning is airport security. A camera caught the teen climbing into the wheel well, but nobody knew until Hawaiian officials called the San Jose International Airport and asked them to look.
“We are looking at what we need to improve so that what happened on Sunday will not occur again,” said Rosemary Barnes, the airport’s spokesperson.
The Federal Aviation Administration said about one-quarter of the 105 stowaways who have sneaked aboard flights worldwide since 1947 have survived. Some wheel-well stowaways survived deadly cold and a lack of oxygen because their breathing, heart rate and brain activity slow down.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.