Monday, April 21, 2014

San Jose to Maui in a Wheel Well: Dumb Luck and Airport Security

First, the good news: the teen is alive, and apparently in good health.

Now, the not-so-good news: a 16-year-old walked or ran to an airliner at Mineta San Jose International Airport, climbed into a wheel well, and wasn't spotted until the flight arrived at Kahului Airport in Maui.

Incredible Good Luck

According to the news, at least one expert is skeptical about the account: although it's hard to see how or why someone would concoct the tale: along with the supporting evidence. My guess is that a teen actually got into the wheel well: and had what my culture calls incredible good luck. I put an excerpt from the San Jose Mercury News at the end of this post. 1

I'm inclined to agree with airport spokeswoman Rosemary Barnes: "No security program is 100 percent." (San Jose Mercury News)

That said, I sincerely hope that folks responsible for airport security will take a long, hard, look at what happened: and what would lower the odds of a repeat performance.

Aside from a desire to keep addled adolescents alive, I'd prefer that nobody be able to reach an airliner and sneak something on board. Distressing as inadvertently killing someone with too little common sense is: allowing someone to plant an explosive device, killing dozens to hundreds of folks, is worse. My opinion.

I'll grant that no system is perfect. Airports have long fence lines, this teen arrived at night: and apparently managed to cross the perimeter without getting spotted on a security camera: "...but that there is surveillance footage of 'an unidentified person walking on the airport ramp and approaching' the plane...." (San Jose Mercury News)

Bottom line? I'm very glad that I don't need to travel by air.

Poikilothermic Protection

A quick science lesson. Most of this will be review, unless you slept through high school biology. Some critters are poikilotherms: their body temperature goes up or down, generally in step with their environment. Humans aren't like that. We usually maintain a fairly steady internal temperature: or our bodies die trying. Once in a while, though, we survive drowning — or sneaking into a wheel well — when our bodies go into a sort of hibernation mode, using a lot less oxygen than usual.

In the news:
Somewhat-related posts:

1 Excerpt from the news:
"Stowaway: San Jose airport security scrutinized after boy's flight to Maui in plane's wheel well"
Mark Gomez and Robert Salonga, San Jose Mercury News (April 21, 2014)

"Authorities say a 16-year-old Santa Clara boy is 'lucky to be alive' after he ran away from home, clandestinely scaled a fence at Mineta San Jose International Airport, and hid inside the wheel well of a plane flying from California to Hawaii in a case that has shone a harsh spotlight on airport security beyond the terminals.

"And according to the FBI, the teen apparently chose his destination at random.

" 'He ran for the nearest plane. This was not a well planned thing,' said Special Agent Tom Simon, spokesman for the FBI's Honolulu office. 'Just a runaway kid with a bad idea.'...

"...That the boy apparently survived -- hours, unpressurized, at altitudes up to 38,000 feet -- literally puts him in rarefied air, as several similar stowaways in the past have died from frigid temperatures, lack of oxygen or being ejected from the plane as the landing gear is lowered.

"The last known person to survive as a stowaway in a flight at least that long was Fidel Maruhi, who in 2000 also hitched a ride in a wheel well from Tahiti to Los Angeles, a seven-plus-hour and 4,000-mile trip where the temperature dropped to nearly minus-50 degrees Fahrenheit. He also reportedly blacked out just after takeoff and survived despite his body temperature dropping to fatal levels....

"...[aviation consultant Jim] Nance went on to say that it would be rare for someone to remain conscious at peak-flight altitudes for more than a few seconds and prolonged exposure would lead to brain death. He also said that without protective gear, the odds of surviving the low temperatures and winds blowing through the wheel well are slim.

"Slim perhaps, but not impossible, according to Federal Aviation Administration study commissioned in 1996 to explore the rare cases when stowaways survived flights in wheel wells. For some of the survivors, the study stated, the cold temperatures caused them to become poikilothermic, akin to a hibernation state where the body's heart and respiratory rates decreased significantly to adjust to the environment...."

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Note! Although I believe that these websites and blogs are useful resources for understanding the War on Terror, I do not necessarily agree with their opinions. 1 1 Given a recent misunderstanding of the phrase "useful resources," a clarification: I do not limit my reading to resources which support my views, or even to those which appear to be accurate. Reading opinions contrary to what I believed has been very useful at times: sometimes verifying my previous assumptions, sometimes encouraging me to change them.

Even resources which, in my opinion, are simply inaccurate are sometimes useful: these can give valuable insights into why some people or groups believe what they do.

In short, It is my opinion that some of the resources in this blogroll are neither accurate, nor unbiased. I do, however, believe that they are useful in understanding the War on Terror, the many versions of Islam, terrorism, and related topics.