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Plane stowaway OK, but trip raises security concerns

A 16-year-old boy who hopped out of a wheel well after a five-hour flight from San Jose, Calif., was loaded into an ambulance in Hawaii Sunday.

Chris Sugidono/The Maui News

A 16-year-old boy who hopped out of a wheel well after a five-hour flight from San Jose, Calif., was loaded into an ambulance in Hawaii Sunday.

SAN JOSE, Calif. — A 16-year-old boy scrambled over an airport fence, crossed a tarmac, and climbed into a jetliner’s wheel well, then flew for five freezing hours to Hawaii — a misadventure that stirred concern about possible weak spots in the security system that protects the nation’s airline fleet.

The boy, who lives in Santa Clara, Calif., and attends a local high school, hopped out of the wheel well of a Boeing 767 on the Maui airport tarmac Sunday. Authorities found him wandering around the airport grounds with no identification. He was questioned by the FBI and taken by ambulance to a hospital, where he was found to be unharmed.

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FBI spokesman Tom Simon in Honolulu said the teen did not remember the flight from San Jose. It was not immediately clear how the boy stayed alive in the unpressurized space, where temperatures at cruising altitude can fall well below zero and the air is too thin for humans to stay conscious. An FAA study of stowaways found that some went into a hibernation-like state.

Somehow, the boy managed to slip through multiple layers of security, including wide-ranging video surveillance, German shepherds, and Segway-riding police officers.

Security footage from the San Jose airport verified that the boy climbed a fence and crossed a runway to get to Hawaiian Airlines Flight 45 on Sunday morning, Simon said.

The airport, in the heart of Silicon Valley, is surrounded by fences, although many sections do not have barbed wire and could easily be scaled.

The boy climbed over during the night, ‘‘under the cover of darkness,’’ San Jose airport spokeswoman Rosemary Barnes said Monday.

Airport police were working with the FBI and the Transportation Security Administration to review security.

The boy was released to child protective services in Hawaii and not charged with a crime, Simon said.

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