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A 16-year-old boy's perilous five-hour odyssey on a jet's wheel well has forced US authorities to review the country's airport security systems as they probed how the teen got to the plane undetected.
Security footage from the San Jose airport in California shows the boy hopping a fence to get to Hawaiian Airlines Flight 45 on Sunday. The teen who lives in Santa Clara, California, had run away from his family after an argument.
The boy survived the over 3,700-km journey over the Pacific Ocean — enduring frigid temperatures, oxygen deprivation and a compartment unfit for human habitation — as he travelled in the jet's wheel well at an altitude of some 38,000 feet.
"It sounds really incredible," said aviation expert Jeff Wise. "Being in a wheel well is like all of a sudden being on top of Mount Everest," Wise was quoted as saying by CNN.
But the incident has prompted authorities to question both how the teen so easily gained access to the jet and how he survived with so little apparent trauma.
Aviation security experts said it was troubling that the teenager was been able to bypass security and get to the plane undetected.
Eric Swalwell, a member of the House of Representatives Homeland Security Committee, said he wanted more answers. The incident "demonstrates vulnerabilities that need to be addressed," he said.
The Transportation Security Administration planned to meet with law enforcement and airport officials to review security after the incident, which experts noted could have been catastrophic had the stowaway been armed with explosives, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, an estimated USD 57 billion has been spent on airport security improvements at American airports, including new passenger screening measures and additional security measures.
Brian Jenkins, an aviation security expert at Rand Corp., said he expected the incident to prompt airport security reviews beyond San Jose.
"Everyone will tighten up. I suspect everyone will be going up a notch just as a consequence of this," he said.
It remains unclear how the teen got onto the tarmac.
Authorities said the teenager apparently had no malicious intent. The flight, carrying 212 passengers and 10 crew members, took off at 7:55 am on Sunday from San Jose. Shortly after the plane landed at 10:31 am in Maui, airline workers spotted the stowaway and reported him to airport security.
A Maui News photo showed him some time later sitting upright on a gurney, attended by paramedics, apparently alert and showing no obvious signs of his ordeal.
Though the wayward teenager was probably guilty of criminal trespass, the San Jose Police said they had no intention of pursuing criminal charges against him, according to an FBI official also following up on the case.


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