The father of a teenager who survived a five-hour flight from California to Hawaii tucked in a jet’s wheel well has said his son had been struggling at school when he ran away.
Abdilahi Yusuf Abdi, of Santa Clara, California, said his 15-year-old son had been talking about going back to Africa, where his grandparents lived after the family moved to the US four years ago.
The teenager made headlines worldwide this week when he climbed into the wheel well before the Hawaiian Airlines Boeing 767 took off from San Jose for the island of Maui on Sunday.
Security video showed the boy jumping out of the plane at at Kahului Airport, verifying his story that he had clambered into the wheel well.
Mr Abdi said his son remains in hospital in the Hawaiian capital Honolulu, where he is understood to be receiving treatment for hypothermia.
Airport chiefs said the teenager was “disoriented, thirsty and could barely” walk after the freezing, low-pressure ordeal.
Security video showed him dangling his feet for about 15 seconds from the wheel well before jumping 10ft to the ground, landing and collapsing, airport manager Marvin Moniz said.
Staggering towards the front of the plane, the boy, who was wearing a San Francisco Giants hoodie, asked for a drink of water – prompting a major police investigation into how he managed to travel without boarding the plane.
The incident has led to calls for increased airport security and a flurry of speculation about how anyone could survive. At a cruising altitude of 38,000ft, temperatures would have been well below zero and the air so starved of oxygen that he probably passed out. His body could have entered a hibernation-like state, experts say.
Taxi driver Mr Abdi said he was told about his son’s journey by police in Hawaii, but could not understand how he got to Maui and asked them to contact the San Jose Police Department.
“When I watched the analysis about the extraordinary and dangerous trip of my son on local TV I thanked God, and I was very happy,” he said.
After the boy – who has not been named – was discovered, FBI investigators were called in to question him.
The teenager said he had been in an argument at home, went to the airport, and got on the first plane he came to.
Mr Moniz said: “He didn’t realise he was in Maui – not at all.”
The boy told officials he evaded what was supposed to be a multi-layered airport security system in San Jose by climbing a fence.
“No system is foolproof,” said San Jose International Airport aviation director Kim Aguirre. “Certainly as we learn more, if we see any gaping holes, we will work to fill them.”
She said a perimeter search found no holes in the barbed-wire fence surrounding the 1,050-acre airport.
Aviation security experts said the incident highlighted weaknesses in securing airfields.
“What happened in San Jose can happen as we speak at other airports, because nobody can watch all these monitors” that feed in video from around the airport, said Rafi Ron, former head of security at Ben Gurion International Airport at Tel Aviv.
Transport officials said the US has spent $80 billion (£48bn) on aviation security since shortly after the 9/11 attacks but that does not include perimeter security.
Mr Ron said: “We were investing all our resources in the front door, which were the passengers and their bags. And we left the back door open.”