List of wheel-well stowaway flights
This is a list of known flights with stowaways, who traveled inside the wheel well (landing gear compartment, also known as wheel bay, or undercarriage) of an aircraft. Between 1947 and June 2015, A U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) researcher had documented 113 such attempts on 101 flights. These 113 people were all male and predominantly under age 30. There were 86 deaths, a 76 percent fatality rate, with many unidentified decedents. There may be additional undocumented cases of wheel-well stowaways.
Wheel-well stowaways face considerable risk of death during all phases of flight. Some have been unable to remain in the well during takeoff and landing and have fallen to their death. Immediately after takeoff, the landing gear retracts into the wheel wells, with the potential to crush the stowaway. If the stowaway is able to avoid physical injury, they still face hypothermia and hypoxia risks at the extremely cold temperatures and low atmospheric pressure at high altitude.
At altitudes above approximately 2,500 m (8,000 ft), hypothermia becomes a risk and reduced atmospheric pressure and partial pressure of oxygen, which drop below the level required to support brain consciousness at the cruising altitudes of jet aircraft, may impair physiological processes. At altitudes above 6,000 m (20,000 ft), stowaways may also develop decompression sickness and nitrogen gas embolism.
Temperatures continue to decrease with altitude, and may drop as low as −63 °C (−81 °F). As the plane descends to lower altitudes, a gradual rewarming and reoxygenation occur; if the stowaway does not regain consciousness and mobility by the time the landing gear is lowered during final approach, or has already died, the body may fall from the aircraft. According to the FAA, it is likely that the number of stowaways is higher than records show because bodies have fallen into the ocean or in remote areas. Many wheel-well stowaways are found, dead or alive, with their bodies covered in frost, suggesting severe hypothermia during flight. Fidel Maruhi, who survived a wheel-well flight from Tahiti to Los Angeles in 2000, had a body temperature of 26 °C (79 °F), well below the level usually considered fatal, when emergency personnel began treating him on the runway.
How those wheel-well stowaways who have survived have done so is a question scientists have not yet been able to answer. "Something happens that we don't understand" says one. Dr. Stephen Véronneau, a research medical officer at FAA’s Civil Aerospace Medical Institute, described as the world's foremost expert on the phenomenon, wrote in a 1996 paper for the FAA that he believes humans, when placed in an environment that overwhelms the body's ability to control its own temperature, become poikilothermic and "a state somewhat reminscent of hibernation occurs, during which the body's requirement for oxygen is greatly diminished". Véronneau later documented 99 cases worldwide of wheel well stowaways from 1947 through June 6, 2013, with 76 fatalities and 23 survivors, and noted here may be additional undocumented cases of successful surviving wheel-well stowaways also escaping the aircraft undetected, potentially with the assistance of accomplices.
One survivor, Armando Socarras Ramirez, who defected from Cuba aboard an Iberia flight from Havana to Madrid in 1969, recalled in 2021 that his earliest post-flight memories are of Spanish doctors calling him "Mr. Popsicle" because ice covered his body when the pilot discovered him after his arrival. He had boarded the plane while it was taxiing, carrying a flashlight, rope and wool to stuff his ears; a companion fell out of the other wheel well before takeoff and a third backed out at the last moment. After takeoff, he had suffered frostbite on his middle finger so severe it turned black holding on until the wheels retracted, but then remembered nothing save shivering and shaking from the extreme cold until he lost consciousness. It took him a month in a Spanish hospital to regain his hearing, but he reports no lingering medical issues from the experience.
In the media
Wheel-well stowaways have been widely covered in the press and media at large throughout the history of passenger airlines. One of the most notable incidents involved Keith Sapsford (14) from Sydney, Australia who fell 200 feet (60 m) to his death from the wheel-well of a Tokyo bound Japan Air Lines Douglas DC-8 on February 24, 1970, shortly after takeoff from Sydney Kingsford Smith Airport. Amateur photographer John Gilpin was taking pictures of planes taking off that day, and did not realize he had captured the boy’s final moments until he developed the pictures a week later. The photo was then famously featured in Life magazine's issue for the week of March 6, 1970, in their "Parting Shots" section of particularly newsworthy photos, across the fold of a two-page spread, alongside photos of spectators tossed into the air and killed at a stock car race in Luanda, Angola and a fatal shootout in a Los Angeles, California store.
List of wheel-well stowaways
Below is a chronological list of documented aircraft wheel-well stowaway incidents. Stowaways have also traveled in a cargo hold, or in a spare parts compartment, both of which are pressurized, or even in the pressurized cabin itself. In at least one other instance, on July 31, 2013, a cat survived a flight from Athens to Zürich in the front undercarriage of an Airbus A321. Those types of incidents are not included in the scope of the list below.
|Aug 7, 1946||Bas Wie, 12||Kupang–Darwin||Douglas DC-3||Survived, naturalised in Australia in 1958 and married|
|Aug 5, 1947||Male, 30||Lisbon–Natal||Douglas DC-3||Survived|
|Sep 9, 1960||Daniel Melo, 16||Santa Maria-Bermuda||Lockheed L-1049 Super Constellation||Survived, caught by LAV's ground team and deported.|
|Sep 28, 1966||Male, 17||Bogotá–Mexico City||Boeing 707||Survived at 34,000 ft|
|Apr 18, 1966||Unidentified man, about 24||Moscow–Paris||Sud Aviation Caravelle||Died|
|Apr 19, 1966||Unknown youth, 20/21||Orly–Morocco||Sud Aviation Caravelle||Died (froze)|
|Jun 4, 1969||Armando Socarras Ramírez, 17, Jorge Pérez Blanco, 16||Havana–Madrid
(Iberia Flight 904)
|Douglas DC-8||Pérez fell out before takeoff and survived to be imprisoned by the Cuban government. Socarras made to Madrid, was released after 52 days in a Spanish hospital, and as of 2021 lives in the U.S. state of Virginia.|
|Jul 26, 1969||Male, 17 and a second unknown||Havana–Madrid||Douglas DC-8||One survived, second fell to death|
|Feb 22, 1970||Keith Sapsford, 14||Sydney–Tokyo
(Japan Airlines flight)
|Douglas DC-8||Sapsford fell to his death after the landing gear doors opened underneath him as the gear retracted, falling from 200 feet (61 m) during the take off sequence. His fatal fall was inadvertently captured by amateur photographer John Gilpin and the photograph was published in Life magazine|
|Jun 21, 1970||Male, 13||Lyon–Abidjan||Douglas DC-8||Died (fell at Abidjan when landing gear lowered)|
|Apr 14, 1972||Male, 18||San Diego–New York City||Boeing 707||Died (froze)|
|Mar 23, 1975||Unknown youth||Bogotá–Miami||Boeing 707||Died (fell)|
|Nov 14, 1986||Male, 35||Panama–Miami||Boeing 707||Survived at 39,000 feet (12,000 m)|
|Feb 19, 1990||Two men from Trinidad||Trinidad–Toronto||BWIA West Indies Airways Lockheed L1011||Both survived 5 hour flight|
|Mar 15, 1993||Shamsul Ramli, 17||Kuala Lumpur–Johannesburg
(Malaysia Airlines flight)
|Boeing 747||Died. Body found in the 747's wheel well at Johannesburg Airport on arrival.|
|Jun 4, 1993||Juan Carlos Guzmán-Betancourt, 17||Bogotá–Miami
(Arca Airline flight)
|Douglas DC-8||Survived at 35,000 ft, but frosted|
|Aug 4, 1993||Male, 19||Bogotá–New York City||Boeing 747||Died|
|1995||Unknown migrant worker||To Shanghai||Boeing 747||Died (froze and fell during landing at Pudong International Airport)|
|Aug 2, 1996||Two Mongolian boys, about 9 and 12||Ulan Bator–Kadena Air Base||U.S. Air Force Lockheed C-141B||12-year-old died declared dead after discovery. Other child died two days later.|
|Oct 14, 1996||Pardeep Saini, 22, Vijay Saini, 19||New Delhi–London||Boeing 747||Pardeep survived in the nose wheel well at 35,000 ft, Vijay died|
|Mar 22, 1997||Male, adolescent||Nairobi–London||Boeing 747||Died (crushed in nosewheel well)|
|1998||Trevor Jacobs, 30||Antigua–Trinidad||McDonnell Douglas MD-80||Died (Trevor Jacobs was wanted on several criminal charges, including kidnapping)|
|Feb 7, 1998||Unknown male||Baku–London
(British Airways Flight 2028)
|Boeing 767||Died, body discovered upon arrival at Gatwick Airport on February 8|
|Jun 28, 1998||Chinese male, 23||Shanghai–Tokyo||Boeing 747||Survived, but hospitalized in critical condition|
|Sep 14, 1998||Emilio Dominguez, 23||San Pedro Sula–Miami
(Iberia Flight 6130)
|McDonnell Douglas DC-9||Survived at 33,000 ft, traveled seeking work, but was returned to Honduras|
|Jun 28, 1999||Yaguine Koita and Fodé Tounkara, 14 and 13||Conakry–Brussels
(Sabena Flight 520)
|Airbus A330||Both died (froze)|
|Aug 4, 2000||Fidel Maruhi, 24||Papeete–Los Angeles–Paris
(Air France Flight 71)
|Boeing 747-400||Survived at 38,000 ft. Discovered during a refueling stopover in Los Angeles, where his body temperature had dropped to 26 °C (79 °F), well below levels usually considered lethal, Maruhi later told, that the main motive behind his travel to France was to "shake hands" with Zinedine Zidane.|
|Jun 2001||Mohammed Ayaz, 21||Muharraq–London||Boeing 777||Died (traveled to London because of job hardships in Pakistan and Bahrain)|
|Aug 7, 2001||Unknown male||London–New York City
(American Airlines Flight 131)
|Boeing 777||Died (fell from 1,500 feet (460 m) on approach to John F. Kennedy International Airport)|
|Sep 2001||Mikhail Semenyaga, 24||Perm–Yekaterinburg–Frankfurt||Died|
|Dec 24, 2001||Alberto Rodriguez, 15, Maikel Almira, 16||Havana–London||Boeing 777||Both died (planned on hiding on a flight to Miami)|
|Jul 2002||Cameroonian male, 34||Rio de Janeiro–Paris
(Air France flight)
|Dec 2002||Victor Alvarez Molina, 24||Havana–Montreal||McDonnell Douglas DC-10||Survived, received refugee status in Canada|
|Dec 5, 2002||Two boys, 12 and 14||Accra–London||McDonnell Douglas DC-10||Both died|
|Jan 11, 2003||Mariano Alexis Herrera-Ba, Punta Cana International Airport technician||Punta Cana–Toronto||Airbus A320||Died|
|Jan 23, 2003||Two unidentified men||Paris–Shanghai
(Air France Flight 112)
|Boeing 777||Both died (fell on approach to Pudong International Airport)|
|Feb 25, 2003||Unknown male||Mali or Gabon–Paris?||Died (fell near Paris)|
|Mar 25, 2003||Unknown male, 19||To Frankfurt||Died|
|Dec 24, 2003||Unknown male, about 25||Montego Bay–New York City||Died|
|Dec 30, 2003||Unknown male, 30s||Lagos–London–New York City
(British Airways Flight 117)
|Boeing 747||Died (body found upon arrival at John F. Kennedy International Airport)|
|Jul 21, 2004||Unknown male, 20||Dominican Republic–Düsseldorf||Died (froze)|
|Oct 22, 2004||Unknown male, 20s||Miami–Detroit||Boeing 737||Died|
|Nov 11, 2004||Liang Kailong, 14, Su Qing, 13||Kunming–Chongqing||Airbus A320||Liang survived, Su died (fell shortly after takeoff)|
|Nov 16, 2004||Unknown||Mali–Paris||Died|
|Nov 30, 2004||Unknown male||Died (fell, body found in Louvain)|
|May 25, 2005||Unknown boy, about 10||Dunhuang–Lanzhou||Airbus A320||Died|
|Jun 7, 2005||Unidentified||Johannesburg–Dakar–New York City
(South African Airways Flight 203)
|Airbus A340||Died (crushed on approach to John F. Kennedy International Airport)|
|Jan 12, 2007||Male||Johannesburg–Dakar–Atlanta
(Delta Air Lines Flight 35)
|Boeing 767||Died (frozen and crushed)|
|Jan 15, 2007||Unidentified||Banjul–Dakar–Brussels||Airbus A330-300||Died|
|Jan 28, 2007||Samuel Peter Benjamin, 17||Singapore–Vancouver–Hong Kong–Cape Town–London–Los Angeles||Boeing 747||Died in the front wheel well, presumably after hitching the aircraft in his hometown Cape Town on January 22, body discovered in Los Angeles|
|Jul 19, 2007||Asian, 50s||Shanghai–San Francisco
(United Airlines flight)
|Boeing 747||Died (in the nose gear wheel well)|
|Sep 21, 2007||Andrey Shcherbakov, 15||Perm–Moscow||Boeing 737||Survived, but suffered severe frostbite|
|Oct 12, 2007||Osama R.M. Shublaq, Palestinian||Kuala Lumpur–Singapore
(Singapore Airlines Flight 119)
|Oct 21, 2007||Ilgar Ashumov, 15||Baku–Moscow||Died on approach to Domodedovo International Airport, body found 12 km from the airport|
|Aug 9, 2009||Filipp Yurchenko, 19||Irkutsk–Khabarovsk–Vladivostok
(Vladivostok Avia Flight 486)
|Feb 7, 2010||Unknown male||New York City–Narita
(Delta Air Lines Flight 59)
|Feb 18, 2010||Unknown Dominican male||Santo Domingo–Miami
|Boeing 767||Died (fell during takeoff)|
|Mar 2010||Okechukwu Okeke, Nigerian||Lagos to the United States
(Delta Air Lines flight)
|Boeing 777||Died in the nose wheel well|
|Apr 2010||Unknown African male||To Zürich||Died (fell after landing gear was lowered on approach to Zürich, body found in Weisslingen)|
|Jun 6, 2010||Romanian male, 20||Vienna–London||Boeing 747||Survived|
|Jul 9, 2010||Unknown male||Beirut–Riyadh
|Sep 10, 2010||Nigerian national||Johannesburg–Lagos
(Arik Air flight)
|Nov 2, 2010||Roman Sorokovikov, 16||Yerbogachen–Kirensk||Antonov An-24||Survived, but planned to reach Irkutsk|
|Nov 15, 2010||Delvonte Tisdale, 16||Charlotte–Boston
(US Airways Flight 1776)
|Boeing 737||Died (possible fatal injury inside wheel well from landing gear, fell on approach to Boston)|
|Jan 15, 2011||Qasim Siddique||Lahore–Dubai
|Died (fell shortly after takeoff)|
|Jul 13, 2011||Adonis Guerrero Barrios, 23||Havana–Madrid||Airbus A340||Died|
|Jul 26, 2012||Unidentified male||Cape Town–London
(British Airways flight)
|Sep 9, 2012||Jose Matada, 27||Luanda–London||Boeing 777||Died (fell)|
|Oct 26, 2012||Unidentified male||London–Lagos||Airbus A340-500||Died|
|Apr 8, 2013||Unidentified male||Yaoundé–Paris
|Jun 6, 2013||Georgian national, 22 (presumably)||Rimini–Moscow
|Airbus A321||Died four days before discovery, and may have been undetected for seven or more previous flights; stowaway boarding location undetermined.|
|Jul 18, 2013||Hikmet Komur, 32||Istanbul–London
(British Airways Flight 675)
|Airbus A320||Died (froze), body found upon arrival at Heathrow Airport|
|Jul 25, 2013||Unknown male||Ouagadougou–Niamey–Paris
(Air France Flight 547)
|Airbus A330||Died (fell during landing in Niamey)|
|Aug 24, 2013||Daniel Ihekina, 13/14||Benin City–Lagos||Survived|
|Jan 5, 2014||Unknown||Mashhad–Medina (emergency landing due to landing gear failure)||Boeing 767-300ER||Died (body parts fell at an intersection in Mushrefa, Jeddah)|
|Feb 22, 2014||Chris Dikeh, Nigerian national||Dakar–Washington, D.C.||Airbus A340-300||Died|
|Apr 20, 2014||Yahya Abdi, Somali national, 16||San Jose–Kahului
(Hawaiian Airlines Flight 45)
|Jul 5, 2014||Male, 17||Sandefjord–Amsterdam
(KLM Cityhopper flight)
|July 27, 2014||Unknown male teenager||Mali (presumably)–Ramstein Air Base||Lockheed Martin C-130J Super Hercules||Died|
|March 14, 2015||Unidentified male, 40s||Lagos–New York City
(Arik Air flight)
|Airbus A340-500||Died (the body was presumed to be in the wheel well from March 11, 2015 when the aircraft had its last flight from New York)|
|April 7, 2015||Mario Steven Ambarita, 21||Pekanbaru–Jakarta
(Garuda Indonesia Flight 177)
|June 19, 2015||Carlito Vale, Mozambican national, 28/29, and Themba Cabeka, 24||Johannesburg–London
(British Airways Flight 54)
|Boeing 747-400||Vale died (fell during approach, body recovered from a roof in Richmond).|
Cabeka survived with life-changing injuries and has been granted leave to remain.
|September 12, 2015||Unidentified stowaway||Nairobi–Amsterdam
(Emirates SkyCargo flight)
|Boeing 777-200||Died, body discovered upon arrival at Schiphol Airport|
|January 11, 2016||Unidentified male||São Paulo–Paris
(Air France flight)
|Boeing 777||Died, body discovered during maintenance operations on the Boeing 777 at Orly Airport|
|February 14, 2016||Unidentified man||Munich–Durban
(Western Global Airlines flight)
|McDonnell Douglas MD-11||Died, body discovered during refuelling at Harare International Airport, Zimbabwe.|
|June 7, 2016||Unidentified male||Dakar–Brussels
(Brussels Airlines Flight 204)
|Airbus A330||Died, body discovered during regular maintenance at Brussels Airport|
|September 21, 2016||Unidentified African male||Nigeria–Jeddah
|Boeing 747||Died, body discovered in the rear wheel well during regular check at King Abdulaziz International Airport|
|November 30, 2016||Unidentified stowaway||Lagos–Johannesburg
(Arik Air flight)
|Airbus A330-200||Died, body discovered at the O. R. Tambo International Airport|
|August 12, 2017||Unidentified Dominican male||Santo Domingo–Miami
(American Airlines Flight 1026)
|Airbus A321||Survived, was returned to Dominican Republic|
|January 13, 2018||Unidentified male||Honolulu–Japan
(Delta Air Lines flight)
|Died, body fell on take-off.|
|February 11, 2018||Unidentified African man||Kinshasa–Ukunda
(Kenya Airways flight)
|Died, found after emergency landing at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport|
|February 26, 2018||Marco Vinicio PG, 17, and Luis Manuel Ch. P., 16||Guayaquil–New York
(LATAM Flight 1438)
|Boeing 767-300||Both died (bodies fell on take off)|
|August 2018||Unidentified male||Caracas–La Fría||Died (fell on takeoff from Simón Bolívar International Airport)|
|April 13, 2019||Unidentified male||Pointe-à-Pitre–Cayenne
(Air France Flight 600)
|Airbus A320||Survived. Homeless man found on the tarmac of the Félix Éboué Airport. The flight made a refuelling stop at Martinique Aimé Césaire International Airport in Martinique between Pointe-à-Pitre and Cayenne.|
|June 30, 2019||Unidentified male, 29||Nairobi–London
(Kenya Airways Flight 100)
|Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner||Died (froze during the flight and fell from the landing gear on approach to London Heathrow Airport. The body fell into a garden in Clapham, one meter (3 ft) away from a sunbathing resident). An investigation by Sky News initially identified the man as 29-year old Paul Manyasi, an employee of Colnet, a cleaning company contracted by Kenya Airports Authority (KAA). KAA and Colnet both claimed that their records showed that Manyasi was never employed by Colnet, nor did his name appear on any airport staff registers. Later reporting by KTN News Kenya found that the family who claimed to have positively identified Manyasi as their son was not even named Manyasi, had no son named Paul and had been paid US$200 to make the claim. Sky retracted the story and apologized to its readers for having been misled and Colnet for having erroneously reported the man had been an employee.|
|September 30, 2019||Unidentified male, 20's.||Conakry–Casablanca
(Royal Air Maroc Flight 526)
|Boeing 737-800||Died. Unknown man in his twenties was found lifeless in plane’s landing gear compartment of Moroccan Royal airline operating flight from Conakry to Casablanca. External examination of the body revealed traumatic skin abrasions and scrapes more pronounced on the chest, abdomen and limbs. The body was very frozen and Rigor mortis had already set in. The cause of death was judged to occur as a result of the combined effect of hypothermia and thoracic trauma.|
|January 7, 2020||Unidentified male||Abidjan–Paris
(Air France Flight 703)
|Boeing 777-300||Died (cause unknown; body found in plane's landing gear upon arrival at Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport)|
|February 4, 2021||Kenyan national, 16||London Stansted–Maastricht
(Turkish Airlines Flight 6305)
|Airbus A330||Survived. Was hospitalized but recovered.|
|April 19, 2021||Unidentified male||Lagos–Amsterdam
(KLM Flight 588)
|Airbus A330-200||Died during the flight, likely of hypothermia.|
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Some successful stowaway flights may be unknown, the travelers recovering at the destination with the help of 'Good Samaritans'
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