A stowaway who hid in the landing gear of a plane flying from Algeria to France managed to survive the two and a half hour flight in the unheated and unpressurized wheel well.
The plane had come from Oran, a city in western Algeria, and landed at Paris’s Orly airport mid-morning. The unidentified man was found barely alive during technical checks of the Air Algérie plane after its landing, the prosecution told Agence France-Presse (AFP).
The man, believed to be in his 20s, was taken to a nearby hospital for treatment. A source at the airport told AFP that he was “in a potentially life-threatening condition due to severe hypothermia”.
Stowaways in the wheelhouses and unpressurized holds of planes face harsh conditions. Temperatures can drop to between -50°C and -60°C, and stowaways must contend with a lack of oxygen as the plane climbs to its cruising altitude of around 30,000 to 40,000 feet .
The dangers of being a stowaway
From 1947 to 2020, the United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) discovered 128 incidences of people worldwide stored in the planes’ landing gear compartments, the Guardian reported. These people are known in the industry as free riders.
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More than 75 percent of these stowaways died.
A 1996 FAA Report found that many stowaways attempted this dangerous mode of transportation to escape unfavorable living conditions in their home countries. The report also reveals that stowaways in wheel wells likely enter a near-hibernation state during flight, where the body’s metabolism and oxygen consumption decrease to adapt to adverse conditions.
The reported number of stowaways in wheel wells is likely lower than the actual number of cases, the FAA found, because some survivors may have escaped undetected after landing while other victims may have fallen from planes unnoticed in the ocean.
In 2019, the body of a suspected stowaway fell hundreds of meters from a plane flying over southwest London, landing in the garden of a man’s home, narrowly missing him as he was sunbathing.
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In April this year, a dead man was discovered in the wheel arch of a KLM flight that took off from Lagos, Nigeria, and landed at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam.
Four months earlier, in January, two bodies were found in the landing gear of a plane flying from Santiago, Chile, to Bogotá, Colombia.
— With files from Reuters
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