US airport chiefs have launched a major security probe after a 15-year-old boy climbed into a airliner’s wheel well, then flew for five freezing hours from California to Hawaii.
The boy, who lives in Santa Clara, California, hopped out of the left rear wheel well of a Boeing 767 on the Maui airport tarmac on Sunday, according to the FBI.
Authorities found the schoolboy wandering the airport grounds with no identification. He was questioned by the FBI and taken by ambulance to hospital, where he was remarkably found to be unharmed.
In Honolulu, FBI spokesman Tom Simon said the teenager climbed into the wheel well of the first plane he saw at San Jose International Airport. “He got very lucky that he got to go to Maui, but he was not targeting Maui as a destination,” Mr Simon said.
He passed out in the air and did not regain consciousness until an hour after the plane landed in Hawaii. Then he climbed out of the wheel well and was immediately seen by airport staff.
It was not immediately clear how the boy survived in the unpressurised space, where temperatures at altitude can fall well below zero and the air is too thin for humans to stay conscious.
Authorities are now trying to determine how the boy slipped through security, including wide-ranging video surveillance, German shepherd dogs and Segway-riding police.
San Jose Airport spokeswoman Rosemary Barnes said airport staff monitored security video feeds from throughout the airport round the clock. But no one noticed 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.