Stowaway survives -50 C while hiding in a plane’s landing gear

Image credit – USA Today

A Stowaway was found hidden in the landing gear of a plane flying from Algeria to France and the person was able to survive. The man managed to survive the two-and-a-half-hour flight in the non-heated and non-pressurized wheel well.

The plane landed in Paris’ Orly airport in the mid-morning from the western Algerian town of Oran. That unidentified man was found in the landing gear, barely alive. The prosecutors told Agence France-Presse (AFP) that they found him during technical checks of the Air Algerie plane after it touched down.

The man is believed to be a person in their 20s who was transported to a nearby hospital for treatment. He was “in a life-threatening condition because of severe hypothermia.” It is quite obvious that stowaways in the unpressurized wheelhouses and cargo holds of planes will face harsh conditions as the temperature is between -50 C and -60 C. There is also a lack of oxygen as the plane rises up to 30,000 to 40,000 feet of cruising altitude.

According to a report, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) found a total of 128 people around the world stowing away in plane landing gear compartments from 1947 to 2020. There is a particular term for such people, which is ‘wheel-well stowaways.’ More than 75% of the stowaways die during the journey.

An FAA report from 1996 showed that several wheel-well stowaways have attempted such dangerous modes of transport just to escape from unfavorable living conditions in their home countries.  According to the report, wheel-well stowaways likely enter a state akin to hibernation during flight, where the oxygen intake levels and metabolism of the body fall exponentially to accommodate and adapt to the harsh environment.

The reported number of stowaways is less than the actual number as some survivors can escape undetected after landing. But many victims can fall into the ocean from the plane unnoticed. Previously in 2019, the dead body of a stowaway fell hundreds of meters from a plane flying over southwest London and landed in a man’s garden.

Another such incident happened in 2015 when a stowaway fell from a British Airways plane when it was towards the end of an 11-hour flight from Johannesburg to London’s Heathrow Airport. This time the body landed on the roof of a clothing company building in West London.

Earlier this year in April, another dead man was found in the wheelwell of a KLM flight that took off from Lagos, Nigeria, and landed at Schiphol airport in Amsterdam. Just four months before that two dead bodies were found in the landing gear of a plane that flew from Santiago, Chile to Bogotá, Colombia.

Clearly, incidents of stowaways are increasing and in many cases, it is leading to death. Now the biggest question lies, while these people hide in the landing gear; how come they pass through the security check and terminal which cannot be done without a ticket and other documents? Questions are rising regarding the safety of the planes and the passengers inside.


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