How Did Maui Stowaway Survive in Jet's Wheel Well?
Is this Amelia Earhart's lost plane, the Electra?
A grainy sonar image captured off an uninhabited tropical island in the southwestern Pacific republic of Kiribati might represent the remains of the famous aviator's plane, according to The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR), which has long been investigating Earhart's last, fateful flight.
Earhart was piloting the Electra, a two-engine plane, in a record attempt to fly around the world at the equator, when she vanished on July 2, 1937.
The researchers had already identified a small debris field of objects at a depth of 200 feet in the waters of Nikumaroro island, some 300 miles southeast of Earhart's target destination, Howland Island.
The site features objects that appear consistent with analysis made by TIGHAR forensic imaging specialist Jeff Glickman of a grainy 1937 photograph of Nikumaroro's western shoreline by British Colonial Service officer Eric R. Bevington.
TIGHAR postulates that flood tides lifted the Electra and carried it over the reef edge, leaving behind the landing gear, which was inadvertently photographed by Officer Bevington three months later in October 1937.
A new twist in the search occurred last March when Richard Conroy, a member of TIGHAR's online Amelia Earhart Search Forum, spotted an anomaly in a sonar map posted online.
Clearly, the teen who decided to run away on Sunday to Maui via the wheel well of a Boeing 767 is lucky to be alive. Some wonder how it’s even possible.
First, he had to get around security at San Jose International Airport. Surveillance camera video shows him hopping the fence at the airport in San Jose, Calif., and walking across the ramp toward the Hawaiian Airlines plane, according to airport officials. But then, the story gets even more incredible: The boy says he got into the wheel well of the airplane, and crawled out again once the aircraft landed in Maui.
“For somebody to survive multiple hours with that lack of oxygen and that cold is just miraculous,” airline analyst Peter Forman told CNN affiliate KHON.
But not completely unprecedented. Between 1947 and 1993, five people survived flights in wheel wells at heights up to 39,000 feet, and five did not, according to a study by the Federal Aviation Administration.
“As you go through 10,000 feet, you develop something called hypoxia, which is a starvation of oxygen,” Michael Kay, a retired British military lieutenant colonel, told CNN. “So on a gradual ascent … a person will slowly slip into a state of unconsciousness. Because of the altitude, you’re at around -80 degrees. It is freezing, but that has its benefits: it preserves the central nervous system.”
At that point, the body is effectively in a state of preservation, Kay said. And while not everyone survives, a 16-year-old with a strong heart has a decent shot. The boy told the FBI he doesn’t remember much of the 5.5-hour flight.
“This is a staggering tale of survival,” Kay said.
Photo: A Hawaiian Airlines Boeing 767 takes off. Credit: Dylan Ashe/Wikimedia Commons