It seems incredible that someone could live through below freezing temperatures and the lengthy lack of oxygen after a 15-year-old boy was a stowaway in the wheel well on a Hawaiian Airlines flight from San Jose to Kahului.
There have also been other documented cases of airlines stowaways surviving, but it's a battle against the extremes.
The data from the Hawaiian Airlines jet shows the plane quickly started climbing after takeoff, reaching 21,000 feet in 10 minutes.
As it soared higher, the amount of oxygen in the air dropped. Outside of the pressurized cabin, anyone would soon start to feel the symptoms of altitude sickness.
"You can get a headache. You can have tunnel vision, ringing in your ears. There are a number of manifestations of hypoxia. Of course, you get sleepy," said Dr. George Macris of the University of Hawaii Hyperbaric Treatment Center.
The air we breathe at sea level contains about 21 percent oxygen. The top of Mauna Kea on the Big Island has about 12 percent. That number drops down to just 5 percent at the plane's cruising altitude of 38,000 feet, and that was where the flight stayed for 4-and-a-half hours.
"He was right on the edge of survival," said Dr. Macris. The doctor knows how much oxygen people really need. He runs the UH Hyperbaric Treatment Center. Here, patients receive different quantities of this essential gas at various pressures. When he heard the news of a stowaway on a flight from the mainland, he feared the worst.
"At first, I thought he was going to be in a coma. Then, I saw him on a stretcher and I was absolutely amazed," said Dr. Macris.
In his experience, Dr. Macris believes the teen huddling in the wheel well will not remember much of his near-fatal trip, blacking out long before cruising altitude was reached.
"He likely lost consciousness and was somewhat hypothermic at the time," said Dr. Macris.
That lowering of his body temperature may have been the reason the teenager is still alive, because as the body cools down, humans start to hibernate.
"When you're cooled down, your metabolism slows down and your body has less of a requirement for oxygen," said Dr. Macris.
The teen's age may also have played a part in his survival, as younger people are more resistant to altitude sickness. Even though he was able to regain consciousness, he is not out of the woods. The teen may still have suffered some brain impairment from his incredible flight.