Dutch authorities at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam have reported finding a stowaway in the front wheel section of a plane traveling from South Africa who incredibly survived the 11-hour journey in perilous conditions. The plane was traveling from Johannesburg and made one stop in Nairobi, Kenya, where it's thought he entered the plane, before continuing to the Netherlands. The 22-year-old man is lucky to be alive.
While he’s not the first person to have survived such a perilous journey in the wheel compartment, the risk is incredibly dangerous. Without the insulation and pressurization of cabins within commercial aircraft, bodies are exposed to temperatures of -51°C (-60°F).
If that weren’t enough, atmospheric pressure at that altitude is between one-third and one-quarter of what it is experienced at sea level. This could easily lead to hypoxia, low oxygen intake. There are grim tales of this kind of risk not panning out. The frozen body of a victim of such a deadly combination fell into a garden in London in 2019 as a plane was coming in to land at Heathrow Airport.
The stowaway, who has applied for asylum, was treated at the scene by the Dutch border patrol. They successfully raised his body temperature to safer levels on site and confirmed he was conscious and they were able to ask him a few questions. He was then transferred to a hospital. The Dutch authorities are now conducting an investigation on where the man came from exactly and if this is a case of migrant smuggling.
Statistics from the US Federal Aviation Agency show 126 people have stowed away on an airplane since 1947, and 77 percent died trying. The actual statistics are expected to be much higher.
Political rhetoric on the plight of refugees has been primarily and increasingly anti-immigration over the past few decades, particularly in the West. With the growing climate crisis, increasing frequency of natural disasters, warfare, and political unrest, the number of immigrants and refugees is not going to decrease. Just the opposite.
Aviation reporter Richard Schuurman called the stowaway's survival here a "miracle".
The award-winning British poet Warsan Shire wrote, on the experience of Somali immigrants coming to Europe, that “no one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark”; sobering words to explain the desperation someone might feel to decide to embark on such a journey.