The dead body of what appears to be a male stowaway from China was found Thursday in the wheel well of a United Airlines flight that landed at San Francisco International Airport after an 11-hour nonstop flight from Shanghai.
United Airlines flight 858 landed at SFO at 7:42 a.m. Thursday. United Airlines technicians conducting routine inspections after the landing, such as checking the tires for wear and searching for any hydraulic fluid leaks, discovered the body at approximately 8:30 a.m., airport spokesman Mike McCarron said.
Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Ian Gregor said the body was frozen because of below-freezing temperatures in the nonpressurized areas of planes at high altitude. He said he is unsure how people manage to crawl into and then survive in the cramped space of a wheel well. San Mateo Coroner Robert Foucrault could not be reached for comment Thursday.
McCarron said such incidents are rare at SFO, recalling a U.S. Airways flight in 2001 with a stowaway who was found dead upon the plane’s landing, also in the wheel well.
Gregor said the FAA does not keep airport-specific figures on wheel-well stowaways. Since 1947, there have been 74 reported incidents worldwide of people on 64 different flights trying to stow away in airplane wheel wells. Of the 74, 60 people died.
Prior to Thursday’s incident, the fourth in the world so far in 2007, FAA records show the last wheel well incident involving a stowaway was on a Jan. 29 flight from London Heathrow Airport to Los Angeles International Airport.
All incidents so far this year have been fatal.
Gregor, who noted that wheel-well stowaways are either crushed by the wheels, frozen to death or asphyxiated, said the FAA is not continuing any investigations into the case. The incident primarily points to a security issue at the airport of origin, he said.
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