An official with the Hawaii Department of Transportation says the 15-year-old boy who survived a flight across the Pacific from San Jose to Kahului in the wheel well of a Hawaiian Airlines flight is lucky to be alive.
"It's a miracle to survive a flight for five hours and 35,000 feet with no oxygen," said Maui Airport District Manager Marvin Moniz. "It's not a temperature-controlled area as well. So, just to survive that was... a miracle."
After the plane landed Sunday, DOT workers saw the teen come out of the wheel well and walked toward the front of the aircraft.
"He was weak. He hung from the wheel well," said Moniz. "And then he fell to the ground and regained some strength and stood up and started walking to the front of the aircraft."
Moniz says there is video of the teen falling from the wheel well. The boy is now with Child Protective Services on Maui after he was treated at a hospital.
"He indicated that there was some problems at home with his family," said Moniz. "He left the home and headed out to the airport and, obviously, jumped the fence there at San Jose."
Moniz is a retired airline employee and is familiar with the wheel well of a plane.
"There is some space [in the wheel well]. But, he was very fortunate that when the wheel went up into position, it didn't crush him," said Moniz.
Moniz also said the teen had a hard time hearing initially. As time went on, he was able to hear a little better.
"We're very happy he survived. He was very fortunate and we told him that, too," said Moniz.
The boy lives in Santa Clara, Calif., according to the Associated Press. He was questioned by the FBI and treated at a hospital.
The FBI says 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.
Experts say the boy most likely entered a hibernation-like state during the flight. In the wheel well, the air is so thin that passing out is inevitable. At the cruising altitude of 38,000 feet, the outside temperature would have been about 85 degrees below zero.
In response to those conditions heart rate and brain activity slow. B ut they can continue, and return to normal as the plane descends to conditions more hospitable for human survival.
Despite the hazards, people survive stowaway attempts with surprising frequency.
Research by the Federal Aviation Administration shows that from 1947 through 2014, including the April 20 incident, there have been 94 flights involving 105 people who stowed away worldwide. Of those 105 people, 80 died and 25 survived. That mens the survival rate of a stowaway is 23.8 percent.
The last known survivor of a stowaway incident was in August 2013 on a domestic flight within Nigeria. The last fatality was found at Dulles International Airport near Washington D.C. in February. The flight traveled from Johannesburg, South Africa on Feb. 12, stopped off at Dakkar, Senegal and landed at Dulles on Feb. 14.