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Teen stowaway was tired, quiet and hungry after plane's landing

By Holly Yan, Shimon Prokupecz and Mike Ahlers, CNN
updated 6:20 AM EDT, Fri April 25, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Airport manager says the 15-year-old was a little slow to answer questions
  • Allah saved my son, teen's father tells Voice of America
  • The stowaway says he was trying to get to Somalia to see his mother
  • He traveled from California to Hawaii in plane's landing gear hold

(CNN) -- Teriyaki meatballs, rice, cookies and a bottle of water.

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That's what authorities gave a hungry teen stowaway who survived a five-hour flight hidden in the wheel well of a jetliner, soon after his unexpected arrival.

The 15-year-old boy sneaked into the wheel well of a Boeing 767 and flew from San Jose, California, to Maui, Hawaii.

"He was really soft-spoken and appeared to be tired. His answers were a little slow initially coming out," Maui District Airport Manager Marvin Moniz told CNN affiliate KGO.

"We did get him some food prior to the paramedics getting here. We asked if he was hungry. He indicated yes he was. We got him some teriyaki meatballs and rice and a package of cookies and a bottle of water," Moniz said.

According to a state health official, the teen is recovering at a Hawaii hospital.

Once he's ready to go home to California, he'll have access to counselors and psychologists, Santa Clara High School Principal Gregory Shelby told KGO.

The quiet teen, who recently transferred to Santa Clara High, is now the talk of the school.

Emanuael Golla, a senior, said the boy was extremely shy. He told CNN that he had just arrived within the past few weeks.

But he already wanted to run away from home -- apparently to see his mother in Somalia.

His father and stepmother live in Santa Clara, where neighbors say family members kept to themselves after moving in a few months ago.

"When I watched the analysis about the extraordinary and dangerous trip of my son on local TVs and that Allah had saved him, I thanked God and I was very happy," the teen's father told Voice of America's Somali service on Wednesday.

He described his son as a "really cool boy," a "very quiet person, always busy with watching the TV and using computer."

When asked what might have motivated the teen's trip, the father told VOA his son had been struggling in school.

"He did not receive education when he was in Africa. Since we came here, he had learning challenges at school. He was not good at math and science, and I think he had a lot of education problems bothering him," the father said.

"He was always talking about going back to Africa, where his grandparents still live," he told VOA. "We want to go back, but due to the current living conditions, we can't go back."

The boy is said to have hopped a fence at San Jose International Airport shortly after 1 a.m. on Sunday, the dark of night cloaking his intentions.

But the teen, who has not been publicly named, didn't just breach the fence -- he stayed on the grounds for six hours without getting caught, a government official said.

The boy just wanted to see his mother in Somalia, a law enforcement official said. But he had no clue which plane went where.

Eventually, he settled on a Hawaiian Airlines 767. Armed with nothing but a comb, he climbed into the jet's wheel well.

As the plane took off, the wheels came up -- barely sparing the teen from a crushing impact.

It was just the first of several dangers that nearly took his life.

The temperature dropped well below zero. The oxygen levels diminished. By the time the plane ascended higher than the peak of Mount Everest, he had passed out.

It wasn't until an hour after the plane landed in Maui that he emerged from the underside of the jet.

The idea that he survived the flight seemed unbelievable.

The boy is now in the custody of Hawaii child welfare services workers, said Kayla Rosenfeld, spokeswoman for the state's Department of Human Services.

It's quite possible he suffered permanent brain damage such as neurological issues, memory problems or a lower IQ, said Dr. Kenneth Stahl, a trauma surgeon at Miami's Jackson Memorial Hospital.

The teen also could have frostbite or a kidney injury because when the body freezes, particles of muscle enter the bloodstream and damage the kidneys, the doctor said.

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CNN's Dana Ford, Mayra Cuevas and Dan Simon contributed to this report.

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