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US teen survives five-hour flight in jet's wheel well

Update: April, 22/2014 - 11:00

LOS ANGELES — A US teenager was lucky to be alive Monday after surviving a bone-chilling, low-oxygen flight from California to Hawaii in a jet's wheel well, authorities said.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation identified the stowaway as a 16-year-old male who climbed the fence at a San Jose airport. He then snuck into the wheel well of a Hawaiian Airlines plane bound for Maui, FBI spokesman Tom Simon said.

The youngster, who ran away from home, endured freezing temperatures and a lack of oxygen aboard the five-and-a-half hour flight, which reached an altitude of some 38,000 feet, he said.

Miraculously, the teen lived to tell.

"He was observed coming out of the plane in Maui, the FBI interviewed him and handed him out to child protective services," Simon said, adding the youth was not being charged with a crime in Hawaii.

However, "if California decides to charge him with a crime, that's up to them," he said.

Security video footage from the Mineta International Airport in San Jose showed the youngster hopping a fence and making his way to Hawaiian Airlines Flight 45, where he climbed, undetected, into the wheel well of the aircraft.

With oxygen scarce and temperatures well below freezing, Simon said the teenager appears to have been unconscious "for pretty much the entire" flight.

The aircraft landed mid morning Sunday at Maui's Kahului Airport, and the youth, who did not regain consciousness for another hour, woke up, and hopped down onto the tarmac. At that point, Hawaiian Airlines personnel noticed him.

While it is not unheard of, it is extremely rare to survive a flight in the wheel well of an aircraft. Many who try, end up freezing to death or succumbing to a lack of oxygen.

In one such case, the body of a 26-year-old was found crumpled on a suburban London street in 2012 after he apparently climbed aboard a British Airways plane in Angola and fell from the wheel well as the aircraft prepared to land at Heathrow Airport. — AFP

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