Stowaway Seen on Video Exiting Plane's Wheel Well After Death-Defying Flight

The 15-year-old survived a 5-hour flight from California to Hawaii.

ByABC News
April 21, 2014, 1:12 AM

SAN JOSE, Calif. APRIL 21, 2014— -- Airport surveillance video shows a 15-year-old stowaway easing his way out of a jetliner's front wheel well and stepping onto the tarmac in Hawaii after miraculously surviving a five-hour flight from San Jose, Calif., in the unpressurized compartment, authorities said today.

The video appears to lend credence to the teen's story that he survived a flight that some experts deemed impossible.

The video captured the stowaway -- wearing a hoodie, jeans and sneakers -- exiting the wheel well of a Hawaiian Airlines Boeing 767, which department from San Jose and landed in Kahului, Maui, at about 10:30 a.m.

"It's not a temperature controlled area so the fact that he was able to survive is a miracle," Maui Airports District Manager Marvin Moniz told ABC News.

When the teen was found walking on the tarmac at Kahului Airport about an hour after the plane landed, he appeared disoriented and was questioned by a worker near the plane, Moniz said, noting the worker alerted authorities.

The teen was weak and couldn't hear well at first, Moniz said, and he was fed lunch and cookies.

"Due to the ongoing investigation, surveillance video will not be released," Moniz said.

The teen was taken into custody and checked by a doctor and found to have no injuries, FBI spokesman Tom Simon told ABC News.

San Jose Airport spokeswoman Rosemary Barnes said the airport doesn't have video of anyone scaling a fence but does have video of someone walking on airport grounds. It was unclear if that video would be made public.

"It does appear that he did scale a part of our perimeter fenceline under cover of darkness and remained undetected as he then proceeded onto the aircraft ramp and then proceeded into the wheel well of the aircraft," an airport official to ABC affiliate KGO.

After the flight was airborne, the boy, who had run away from home, passed out inside the unprotected, unpressurized wheel well, Simon said. When the plane landed after if 2,300-mile journey at Maui Airport at 10:30 a.m. Sunday, the boy was still passed out and he did not come to for about an hour, Simon said.

VIDEO: Teenager Hitches Flight on Hawaii-Bound Plane

News of the incident was met with suspicion and scrutiny. Most wheel well stowaways don't survive, falling victim to frigid temperatures and lack of oxygen. The chances of survival of a wheel well stowaway on a commercial aircraft are about 24 percent, according to the Federal Aviation Administration's Civil Aerospace Medical Institute.

"From 1947 through 2014, including the April 20, 2014, incident, there have been 94 flights worldwide involving 105 people who stowed away [in unpressurized compartments]," the FAA said in a statement. "Of those 105 people, 80 died and 25 survived."

"The last known survivor of a stowaway incident was in August 2013 on a domestic flight within Nigeria, Africa," the FAA added. "The last fatality was found at Dulles International Airport in February 2014. The flight traveled from Johannesburg, South Africa, on Feb. 12, 2014, and then on to Dakkar, Senegal, and landed at Dulles on Feb. 14, 2014."

Dr. Richard Besser, ABC News’ chief health and medical editor, said in order to survive inside a wheel well during a flight, the body has to fall into a hibernation-like state, with the heart only beating a couple times a minute.

"It's near impossible, almost miraculous, and maybe there's more to the story," Besser said.

Alison Croyle, a spokeswoman for Hawaiian Airlines, released a statement, saying, "Our primary concern now is for the well-being of the boy, who is exceptionally lucky to have survived."

The boy has not been charged with any federal crimes in Hawaii, Simon said. He has been turned over to Hawaiian child protective services.

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

ABC News' David Kerley contributed to this report.