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April 21, 2014

Stowaway teen forces review of airport security

SAN JOSE, Calif. — A 16-year-old boy scrambled over an airport fence, crossed a tarmac and climbed into a jetliner's wheel well, then flew for five freezing hours to Hawaii — a misadventure that forced authorities to take a hard look at the security system that protects the nation's airline fleet.

The boy, who lives in Santa Clara, Calif., hopped out of the wheel well of a Boeing 767 on the Maui airport tarmac Sunday. Authorities found the high school student wandering the airport grounds with no identification. He was questioned by the FBI and taken by ambulance to a hospital, where he was found to be unharmed.

FBI spokesman Tom Simon in Honolulu said the teen did not remember the flight from San Jose.

It was not immediately clear how the boy stayed alive in the unpressurized space, where temperatures at cruising altitude can fall well below zero and the air is too thin for humans to stay conscious. An FAA study of stowaways found that some survive by going into a hibernation-like state.

On Monday, authorities tried to determine how the boy slipped through multiple layers of security, including wide-ranging video surveillance, German shepherds and Segway-riding police officers.

Security footage from the San Jose airport verified that the boy climbed a fence and crossed a runway on Sunday morning to get to Hawaiian Airlines Flight 45, Simon said.

That airport, in the heart of Silicon Valley, is surrounded by fences, although many sections do not have barbed wire and could easily be scaled.

The boy climbed over during the night, "under the cover of darkness," San Jose airport spokeswoman Rosemary Barnes said Monday.

Hours later, surveillance video at Kahului Airport showed the boy getting out of the wheel well after landing, according to a statement from Hawaii's Department of Transportation. The video was not released because of the ongoing investigation.

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