Skip to main content

5 stowaway attempts that didn't end tragically

By James Durston, CNN
updated 7:44 AM EDT, Tue April 22, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • A 16-year-old recently survived a five-hour flight from California to Hawaii in a wheel well
  • Most aircraft stowaways don't survive, exposed to multiple risks including low oxygen levels, freezing temps and mechanical threats
  • First aerial stowaway was a 19-year-old golf caddy who illegally boarded the Graf Zeppelin in 1928

(CNN) -- News that a 16-year-old boy from California survived a five-hour flight in the wheel well of a Hawaii-bound Boeing 767 has shocked and impressed the world.

Forgetting, for the moment, his ability to slip through numerous security checks, he had to avoid getting crushed by the wheel apparatus as it folded up and down, as well as survive oxygen deprivation and temperatures of below -45 degrees Celsius (-49 degrees Fahrenheit) at altitudes up to 38,000 feet.

Little surprise then that survival rates for this kind of stowaway are pegged at around 24%, according to the Federal Aviation Administration's Civil Aerospace Medical Institute.

Stowing away is also an illegal act, and of course should never be attempted by anyone. For those that do survive, there's a risk of brain damage and other health complications as a result of the extreme conditions endured.

See how stowaway could hid in wheel well
Can anyone survive in a plane's wheel well?

But survival has happened -- here are some of the more notable examples of the last century.

How a stowaway survived a 5-hour flight

Note: While the term "stowaway" is defined by Merriam-Webster as "someone who hides on a ship, airplane, etc., in order to travel without paying or being seen," a couple of our inclusions did not directly hide, but surreptitiously boarded planes.

1. Hate shopping, prefer Rome

In 2012, 11-year-old Liam Corcoran, from Manchester, UK, went to extreme measures to escape a shopping trip with his mother.

Having given her the slip in a shopping center, Corcoran headed for Manchester Airport where, without a passport, ticket or boarding pass, he evaded security checks, metal detectors and gate control to board a Jet2 flight bound for Rome.

He was only noticed halfway through the flight and was returned home when the plane flew back to the UK.

2. Dublin to New York, courtesy the gab

In 1985, two young boys from Dublin nearly pulled off the runaway of the century.

Keith Byrne (10) and Noel Murray (13) ran away from their homes in north Dublin and stowed away or hitchhiked on a boat, a bus, a train and a car to get to Heathrow Airport, nearly 600 kilometers (372 miles) away in London.

And that was just the start.

In Heathrow they evaded security and passport checks to board an Air India flight bound for New York.

They were only caught when a wily police officer in JFK International Airport spotted them looking lost and disheveled on a sidewalk.

They eventually confessed and were put on a return flight to Dublin, having spent a free night in a hotel, again courtesy Air India.

3. World's first aerial stowaway

In 1928, 19-year-old Clarence Terhune became a sensation in Germany, after stowing away on the return leg of the maiden flight of the Graf Zeppelin, flying from Lakehurst, New Jersey to Friedrichshafen, Germany.

Terhune, a golf caddy from St. Louis, Missouri, who had already established a habit of stowing away on trains and ships and of crashing major sports events, made a bet with his brother-in-law that he could trump all previous stowaways with the Zeppelin.

And he did.

He snuck aboard while the dirigible was in its hangar and made his big reveal once over the Atlantic Ocean.

Though made to work in the kitchen for the remainder of the journey and arrested on landing, he was hailed as a hero by the German people, sent telegrams, invited to dinners and was even offered a job, it was reported.

4. Miracle survivor

In 1996, 23-year-old Pardeep Saini survived a ten-hour-flight from New Delhi to London Heathrow in the wheel well of a British Airways Boeing 747.

Saini's 19-year-old brother Vijay died on the same attempt, exposed to temperatures of -60 degrees Celsius (-76 degrees Fahrenheit).

Saini's survival was likely the result of hypoxia combined with hypothermia, essentially putting him into a state of suspended animation, doctors said.

Found wandering the tarmac at Heathrow, Saini said he and his brother had fled India after being accused of having links to Sikh militants.

He described how they'd paid a man for information about how to escape the country by getting into the baggage hold of a plane through the wheel bay.

But there is no access to the baggage hold from the wheel bay, and moments after entering the wheel well the plane took off and he passed out.

His application for asylum was refused.

5. Cuba to Paris, via nosebleed

In 2000, 24-year-old Roberto Viza Eg├╝es survived 14 hours as a stowaway inside a cargo container on an Air France flight from Havana, Cuba to Paris.

He was exposed to freezing temperatures and low oxygen levels and a few hours in suffered an extreme nosebleed. When two Parisian grocers to whom the container had been sent discovered him, he was covered in blood.

He'd fled Cuba after fearing his membership of a dissident group was likely to cause him and his family problems.

His request for asylum was denied the same year and he was returned to Cuba.

Teen stowaway raises questions about airport security

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 9:56 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Journals, luggage tags, Panama hats? Yawn. We've got a selection of gifts travelers will actually use.
updated 7:26 AM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Global events, new attractions and anniversary celebrations will put these destinations on travel radars next year. Question is, which one(s) to visit?
updated 7:48 AM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
Of all Christmas traditions out there, one has an All-American pedigree: electric Christmas tree lights.
updated 9:51 PM EST, Sun December 21, 2014
The gateway to Japan's capital, Tokyo Station, is celebrating its centennial this month -- and it's never looked better.
updated 5:04 AM EST, Wed December 17, 2014
.
Looking for snow porn? This helicopter ski adventure will fly you into the Coast Mountains for the freshest runs.
updated 10:19 AM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
From Singapore to Norway, there are plenty of reasons to plan your next trip around a fabulous hotel opening its doors next year.
updated 4:25 AM EST, Wed December 17, 2014
Step aside Mount Everest, this mountain country is home to cool cafes, crazy drinks and ancient Buddhist tradition.
updated 5:56 AM EST, Tue December 16, 2014
Nonprofit Ethical Traveler has released its annual list of the developing countries doing the most to promote human rights and preserve their environments.
updated 5:36 AM EST, Thu December 11, 2014
These waterfront watering holes have killer ocean views, creative drinks and the mahalo vibe we demand.
updated 3:38 PM EST, Wed December 10, 2014
Can't wait to book your ticket to Indianapolis and Oakland? The venerable guidebook is right there with you
updated 1:25 AM EST, Wed December 10, 2014
By helicopter, snowmobile and big-wheel truck across some of the world's most volatile landscapes.
updated 4:42 PM EST, Tue December 9, 2014
Construction begins on a new Singapore airport complex that could make delays and layovers a pleasure.
updated 9:41 AM EST, Tue December 9, 2014
Inflight chatterboxes are annoying but they're not the worst violators of onboard etiquette, according to an Expedia study.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT