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Teen hitches ride to Hawaii in jet's landing gear -- and lives to tell the tale

By Steve Almasy, Josh Levs and Dave Alsup CNN | 4/22/2014, 9:37 a.m.
The questions are many. But the first has to be, how in the world did a 16-year-old boy survive a ...
A map showing the west coast of the United States, including Hawaii. Maui and San Jose, California, are highlighted. CNN image.

When the ground crew at Kahului Airport noticed the boy, he was wandering the tarmac, dazed and confused.

The teen also could have frostbite or a kidney injury because when the body freezes, particles of muscle enter the blood stream and damage the kidneys, Stahl said.

How did he get there?

The 16-year-old apparently hitched a ride from San Jose, California, to Maui in the landing-gear wheel well of a Boeing 767, Hawaiian Airlines said.

The boy told authorities he was from Santa Clara, California, and ran away from home Sunday morning, said FBI Special Agent Tom Simon. He didn't have an ID and was carrying only a comb.

He hopped an airport fence, ran to the plane and climbed on, the FBI said.

"It appears that this teenager scaled a section of our perimeter," Mineta San Jose International Airport spokeswoman Rosemary Barnes told CNN. The boy "was able to proceed onto our ramp under cover of darkness and enter the wheel well of an aircraft."

Officials for the city of San Jose, which operates the airport, are not planning any legal action, Barnes said Monday. Once they were confident that the teen did not present a threat, the FBI dropped out of the investigation.

The boy is in the custody of child welfare services workers in Hawaii, said Kayla Rosenfeld, a spokeswoman for the state's Department of Human Services. She said Monday afternoon that officials have notified the boy's family that he is safe.

How did no one notice him?

Surveillance camera footage shows the boy hopping the fence at the San Jose airport, the FBI said. There's also camera footage of him walking across the ramp in San Jose toward the Hawaiian aircraft, the airport said.

Video "is under review by federal and local law enforcement officials here," Barnes said. "And we'll continue to review that to determine where, in fact, the teenager was able to scale the fence line."

The boy told investigators he crawled into the wheel well of the plane and lost consciousness when the plane took off.

An hour after the plane landed at Kahului Airport, the boy regained consciousness and emerged to a "dumbfounded" ground crew, the FBI's Simon said.

The Maui airport has video of him crawling out of the left main gear area.

"It makes no sense to me," Simon said.

Mavin Moniz, the Maui District airport manager, added that a worker saw the boy come out of the wheel well and walk toward the front of the aircraft.

"Clearly there's a big security breach here, which in the post 9/11 world order is a concern," said Kay. To get past all sorts of people apparently unnoticed is "a physical feat," he said.

How did he not get crushed or fall?

It's not hard at all" to climb inside the wheel well, said Jose Wolfman Guillen, a ground operations coordinator at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport. "You can grab onto the struts and landing gear assembly kind of like a ladder, and you just jump on the tire and climb into the wheel well."