A 15-year-old boy who survived a flight from California to Hawaii by hitching a ride in the plane’s wheel well said he was trying to get to Somalia to see his mother, a law enforcement official told CNN on Tuesday.
The teen, who has not yet been identified, spent more than six hours on the ground before the Maui-bound jet took off, another government official says.
The boy jumped an airport fence in San Jose, California, shortly after 1 a.m. on Sunday, hours before Hawaiian Airlines Flight 45 took off at 7:55 a.m., the official said.
The official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, didn’t know when the teen climbed into the wheel well, but said the plane already was at the airport at 1 a.m.
Investigators say they don’t think the teen knew where the plane was heading and just went to the nearest aircraft.
Authorities said the boy came out of the wheel well of the Boeing 767 about an hour after it landed at the Kahului Airport on the island of Maui.
He is in the custody of child welfare services workers, said Kayla Rosenfeld, a spokeswoman for the state’s Department of Human Services.
The teen told authorities he was from Santa Clara, California, and ran away from home on Sunday, FBI Special Agent Tom Simon said.
Emanuell Golla, a senior at Santa Clara High School who told CNN he had met the boy but isn’t good friends with him, described him as extremely shy and quiet and said he had just transferred to the school with the past few weeks.
The boy told authorities that he crawled into the wheel well and lost consciousness when the plane took off.
He survived the nearly five-hour flight in sub-zero temperatures at oxygen-depleted heights — as high as 38,000 feet — against the odds, authorities believe.
Since 1947, 105 people are known to have attempted to fly inside wheel wells on 94 flights worldwide, the Federal Aviation Administration’s Civil Aerospace Medical Institute says.
Of those, 25 made it through, including a 9-year-old — a survival rate of 24%. One of the flights went as high as 39,000 feet. Two others were at 38,000 feet.
The conditions at high altitudes can put stowaways in a virtual “hibernative” state, the FAA said.