A man survived an airplane flight on the outside of the plane from Johannesburg, South Africa to Amsterdam, the capital of the Netherlands. The flight took about 11 hours, during which the 22-year-old Kenyan remained concealed in the nose wheel of the cargo plane.
The unidentified man hitched an unauthorized ride on a freight carrier operated by Cargolux Italia. It is believed he secretly climbed on board the landing gear compartment of the plane before it left Johannesburg, stayed put during a stop in Nairobi, Kenya, and then was discovered when the plane landed in Amsterdam.
Royal Dutch Military Police spokeswoman Joanne Helmonds told CBS News “Our first concern of course was for his health. This is definitely very unusual that someone was able to survive the cold at such a height – very, very unusual. It is quite remarkable that the man is still alive.”
Dutch police are investigating the incident. According to a Twitter post by the police, authorities are investigating whether human smuggling is taking place along the cargo plane’s travel route. As for the young man from Kenya, he has applied for asylum in the Netherlands.
Stowaways are rare, but not unheard of. Helmonds said that previous attempts involved hopeful migrants from Nigeria and Kenya. In 2021, police discovered the body of a Nigerian man in the landing gear of a plane arriving at Schiphol airport, the same one where last week’s Kenyan stowaway was found alive.
In 2019, a man fell to his death from a Kenya Airways plane in England. He was thought to be a stowaway who fell out of the landing gear compartment from a plane heading to Heathrow Airport.
The odds that the young Kenyan survived his 11-hour flight outside of the pressurized cabin with beverage service and bathroom breaks is nothing short of amazing. The 747 he perched on likely reached an altitude of 35,000 feet, according to flight stats listed on ExecutiveFlyers.com. This is about 6.6 miles above the Earth’s surface.
Higher altitude means thinner air, less oxygen, and colder temperatures. According to RehabilitationRobotics.net, the air temperature at 35,000 feet would be about -54 C, or -65 F. Oxygen would be significantly harder to obtain in sufficient quantities to sustain human life.
But, he is not the first stowaway to miraculously survive such a trip. In 2014, a 15-year-old boy hitched a ride in the wheel well of a Boeing 767 that flew from San Diego, California, to Maui Hawaii. At the end of this five-hour flight, the teenager hopped down and walked across the tarmac.
How did he do it? National Geographic posed that same question to an aerospace physiologist following the teenager’s survival story. NatGeo writer Susan Brink asked Jeff Sventek, aerospace physiologist and executive director of the Aerospace Medical Association, how perplexed he was by the boy’s survival.
“I’ve run it through my mind several times trying to figure out what this young man could have done to protect himself and come out of this alive. For someone who spent his life teaching this and understanding it, it’s still very hard for me to understand and grasp how he dropped down and was walking around the tarmac after this experience. He’s just a very, very lucky young man,” said Sventek.
He went on to speculate that the boy might have gotten his hands and feet close to a compartment for electrical equipment that might also be housed in the wheel well. Perhaps enough heat was generated from that equipment to radiate through the floor and warm his body during the frigid five-hour flight.
If you’re looking to save money on your next commercial flight, might want to think again. The Federal Aviation Administration reports that there have been over 105 stowaway attempts since 1947, and over 80 of them have died. It’s better to just spend the money for a ticket, drink the flat soda, and endure a few hours of politely but pointedly elbowing your neighbor’s forearm off your arm rest.
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