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Experts Say Hitching a Ride In an Airliner's Wheel Well Is Not a Good Idea 239

Hugh Pickens DOT Com (2995471) writes "Hasani Gittens reports that as miraculous as it was that a 16-year-old California boy was able to hitch a ride from San Jose to Hawaii and survive, it isn't the first time a wheel-well stowaway has lived to tell about it. The FAA says that since 1947 there have been 105 people who have tried to surreptitiously travel in plane landing gear — with a survival rate of about 25 percent. But agency adds that the actual numbers are probably higher, as some survivors may have escaped unnoticed, and bodies could fall into the ocean undetected. Except for the occasional happy ending, hiding in the landing gear of a aircraft as it soars miles above the Earth is generally a losing proposition. According to an FAA/Wright State University study titled 'Survival at High Altitudes: Wheel-Well Passengers,' at 20,000 feet the temperature experienced by a stowaway would be -13 F, at 30,000 it would be -45 in the wheel well — and at 40,000 feet, the mercury plunges to a deadly -85 F (PDF). 'You're dealing with an incredibly harsh environment,' says aviation and security expert Anthony Roman. 'Temperatures can reach -50 F, and oxygen levels there are barely sustainable for life.' Even if a strong-bodied individual is lucky enough to stand the cold and the lack of oxygen, there's still the issue of falling out of the plane. 'It's almost impossible not to get thrown out when the gear opens,' says Roman.

So how do the lucky one-in-four survive? The answer, surprisingly, is that a few factors of human physiology are at play: As the aircraft climbs, the body enters a state of hypoxia—that is, it lacks oxygen—and the person passes out. At the same time, the frigid temperatures cause a state of hypothermia, which preserves the nervous system. 'It's similar to a young kid who falls to the bottom of an icy lake," says Roman. "and two hours later he survives, because he was so cold.'"
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Experts Say Hitching a Ride In an Airliner's Wheel Well Is Not a Good Idea

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  • by hogghogg ( 791053 ) on Tuesday April 22, 2014 @03:06AM (#46813057) Homepage Journal
    If people who die in a wheel well always have their dead bodies discovered, while *some* of the people who survive a wheel-well journey don't -- they sneak out on the tarmac undetected -- then the survival rate of 25 percent must be an under-estimate, or at least is potentially an under-estimate.
  • by vikingpower ( 768921 ) on Tuesday April 22, 2014 @03:07AM (#46813065) Homepage Journal
    Mercury can't plunge to -85 degrees Fahrenheit. It solidifies at -37.8922 degrees Fahrenheit. Fail.
  • by Bryan Ischo ( 893 ) * on Tuesday April 22, 2014 @03:22AM (#46813119) Homepage

    Why do they bother with all of the ridiculous security protocols for airline passengers when apparently it's pretty easy to sneak a 16-year-old-kid-sized bomb into the wheel well of an aircraft on the tarmac?

    So much neater and easier than trying to sneak weapons through airport security. And the best part is, you don't have to commit suicide to take the plane down.

    Seriously, airplane security is clearly full of holes and the sham of passenger security checks is just that, a sham meant to make us 'feel' safe while wasting our time and shoveling tons of dollars to the TSA.

  • by Karmashock ( 2415832 ) on Tuesday April 22, 2014 @03:55AM (#46813217)

    ... is that sick?

    So there are three factors that you need to deal with apparently.

    1. The cold.

    Solution: Get yourself a really good jacket. Something you could take to the north pole... should be enough.

    2. Lack of oxygen.

    Solution: Get yourself an O2 tank... The kind they take to Everest. Just something to supplement the air you're breathing.

    3. Falling out of the god damn airplane.

    Solution: Some basic mountaineering gear would likely do the trick. Just ropes and clamps.

    All told, what you seem to need are high altitude mountaineering gear. So, some cold weather gear, an oxygen bottle, and some ropes. Doubtless it would be a nasty ride but you'd probably survive.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 22, 2014 @06:03AM (#46813471)

    You want really scary: Off the shelf 10-20kg RC Plane packed full of explosives and with an FPV system to make a simple and cheap guided missile. They can be made fast enough to keep up with a plane just after takeoff or before landing, or while it is flying in the ATC pattern. Might not even be seen at night (though I guess they have bird warning systems).

    Or what if someone lands an explosive filled drone on a taxiing plane and latches on, detonating during or after takeoff.

    With modern RC autopilots they can even be automated. Just program multicopter autopilot to go and sit stationary 10m off the middle of the runway, if you aren't moving then radar is probably unlikely to see you.

    High speed trains are even worse. No way can they guard hundreds of miles of track against anvils being tossed onto them (or bombs put in their exceptionally predictable (in both time and location) path).

    Or what if someone programs a drone to fly a nail bomb into a crowded stadium, or the Kabah during Haj. GPS means they can be launched hundreds of miles away.

    One can only come to the conclusion that either the terrorists are remarkably incompetent/unimaginative, or that they are basically non-existant, and we are wasting our time and money doing anything at all.

  • by michelcolman ( 1208008 ) on Tuesday April 22, 2014 @10:32AM (#46814867)

    Depends on the aircraft type. In the main wheel bay of an A330 you can easily fit a whole family, since the bay is the same size as that of an A340 which has an extra body gear. Some aircraft also have versions with or without an extra fuel tank in the belly, and that space is usually wide open if this extra fuel tank isn't installed.

    In one company I used to fly for, someone had flown multiple legs in an A330's wheel bay before his body was finally found when someone noticed a strange smell... According to the report I read, he might have survived the first leg from Africa but remained unconscious and then died on the second leg. I don't remember after how many flights he was finally found.

Our business in life is not to succeed but to continue to fail in high spirits. -- Robert Louis Stevenson