The scene appears to have been taken from a Hollywood action movie: the hero jumps discreetly into the plane's landing gear compartment and eventually escapes his would-be captors unharmed. The situation, however, actually involves a 16-year-old stowaway who decided to hitchhike in the wheel well of a Hawaiian Airlines Boeing 767 after a row with his parents.
In a movie-like twist, though, the boy miraculously survived travelling at a maximum altitude of 38,000 feet from San Jose, Calif., to Maui, Hawaii. He was cramped for five hours in the wheel well of the airplane in a condition that experts said could have been fatal. More astonishingly, the boy appears to be well and unharmed despite that such a feat only has a 24 percent chance of survival as per the Federal Aviation Administration.
Unlike other areas of the plane, the wheel well is neither heated nor pressurized, which means that the teen could have died from the freezing temperatures of up to minus 80 Fahrenheit and scarce oxygen supply.
ABC News network health correspondent Richard Besser explained the potentially deadly risks of the boy's feat. He said that hypoxia, the condition when the body is deprived of enough oxygen supply, happens at high altitudes and most people pass out or die within minutes when their body does not receive the right amount of oxygen that it needs.
Hypoxia could set in at 18,000 feet and could cause light-headedness, visual impairment, weakness and tremors. Hawaiian Airlines Flight 45 notably travelled at an altitude of 38,000 feet, which is way above Mount Everest's altitude. Besser also said that hypothermia can occur at such height, which could freeze a person to death.
Armand Dorian, from the University of Southern California Verdugo Hills Hospital, said that while hypoxia and hypothermia are two of the primary factors that would have killed the boy, the combination of thin air and freezing temperature could have actually saved him.
"You get the cooling process in a gradual way or the person can tolerate the speed [at which] the cooling happens," Dorian said. "They cool down at the same time they become hypoxic, the need for oxygen declines as the body cools. It's exactly like the concept of cryogenic freezing, in laymen's terms. The boy's body went into a frozen state."