A man was apprehended at Miami International Airport after he traveled there in the landing gear of a plane that departed from Guatemala, U.S. Customs and Border Protection said.
The 26-year-old man, whose name and nationality were not released by CBP, had “attempted to evade detection” by stowing himself in the landing-gear compartment, CBP said in a statement, adding that the man was evaluated by emergency medical services and brought to a hospital.
The flight, American Airlines 1182, landed in Miami shortly after 10 a.m. on Saturday and “was met by law enforcement due to a security issue,” Alfredo Garduno, a spokesman for American Airlines, said in an email
The flight was nearly three hours long. A video posted online showed a man dressed in a light jacket sitting down on the tarmac while two workers wearing American Airlines vests attended to him. “Yeah, he survived. He survived,” one of the workers said while talking on a cellphone.
People who attempt to hide in confined spaces such as wheel wells on planes are taking “extreme risks,” CBP said.
Temperatures in non-pressurized, non-climate-controlled parts of the plane can drop to 65 degrees below zero, according to the Federal Aviation Administration, which has studied the phenomenon of “wheel-well stowaways.” People who embark on such a journey risk dying of hypothermia, hypoxia (a lack of oxygen), being crushed by equipment or falling to their deaths.
Surviving such a trip is rare, but has been documented in the past on even longer flights. In 2014, a 15-year-old boy from California flew from San Jose, Calif., to Maui, Hawaii, in a plane’s wheel well and survived. He was found wandering the tarmac and said in an interview after the ordeal that he had not been trying to score a free beach vacation, but was trying to see his mother, who was living in a refugee camp in Ethiopia.
The FAA — which warns against the tactic — said in its report on stowaways that a plane’s wheels initially provide “significant heat.” As the plane enters cooler altitudes, hypothermia coupled with hypoxia can preserve the nervous system, it says, before the descent gradually provides warmth and oxygen.
Still, those who survive can face legal consequences for the trip — and the boy who flew to Hawaii suffered hearing damage.
This summer, when the United States departed Afghanistan, several people who had clung to a U.S. military plane in a desperate attempt to flee the country died after they fell to their deaths. U.S. officials also found crushed human remains in a wheel well.
In 2019, a man was found dead in a south London garden after he apparently fell out of the landing-gear compartment of a Kenya Airways flight from Nairobi to London. Police found a bag, water and food in the compartment. The man fell next to a person who had been sunbathing, the BBC reported.
Episodes involving people stowing themselves in planes often involve migrants, illustrating the extreme risks that some will go to in an effort to escape dire situations in their home countries. In Guatemala, a hunger crisis has contributed to a wave of migration. Across Central America, people are fleeing poverty and violence.
Guatemala’s aviation authority did not immediately respond to a request for comment.