Bodies falling from the sky and one that didn’t

Keith Hudson

One of my correspondents lives, and sometimes walks to work, directly underneath one of the Heathrow flightpaths where, from time to time, bodies fall out of aircraft undercarriages when their wheels . . . are lowered for landing.    He recently walked in front of the office building onto which the latest body fell  yesterday from a Johannesburg flight.  If I were him I think I would be looking up quite frequently whenever I heard the sound of an approaching aircraft. My friend is not neurotic on the matter but, nevertheless, is begining to be concerned.  One of these days, someone might be killed — that is, in addition to the stowaway himself, of course, who might have died within minutes of taking off, depleted of oxygen or from freezing.*

It is a tragedy to be hit on the head by a falling rock, as unfortunately happened to a young woman yesterday on Llantwit Major beach in South Wales yesterday.  It is doubly so to be hit by a falling body walking along a London Street where there are no red warning signs.  In view of the fact that there will undoubtedly be an increasing number of desperate migrants from Africa in the coming years, then this should be a matter of official concern.  Surely all responsible airplane operators — in this case, British Aiways — ought to be looking at their undercarriages before the plane takes off.  All it requires is someone to do a quick inspection with a flashlight.

*There was, however, another person involved on the same flight.  He appeared to have caught on the undercarriage as it lowered and didn’t fall free as the plane descended to Heathrow.  But, astonishingly, he was still alive and is now in a West London hospital.  This suggests to me that he started freezing very rapidly and, in that state, when brains freeze quickly, individuals can survive without oxygen.  There have been a number of cases where people have been trapped under ice in freezing conditions for quite lengthy periods of an hour or so — and still recovered.  However, at too low or too prolonged temperatures, water in the body cells crystallise and damage the other contents.  It is thus unlikely that the injured man will actually recover, though it is to be hoped that he might do so, both for humane and scientific reasons.

One thought on “Bodies falling from the sky and one that didn’t

  1. This happened in April 2014. The flight was from San Jose CA (my fair town) to Hawaii.

    CNN Report:

    . . . how in the world did a 16-year-old boy survive a five-hour flight in below freezing cold weather at oxygen-depleted heights without dying or falling out of the wheel well of a huge jumbo jet?

    Another has to be, how does a 16-year-old even sneak on to an airport and a plane to begin with?

    Authorities likely were trying to find the answers to some of their questions Monday. The boy remained in the custody of child welfare services workers in Hawaii. But the FBI says they have no more need to interview the boy as he is no threat.

    Apparently he’s just a runaway who popped out of the wheel well of Hawaii Airlines Flight 45 on Sunday to the amazement of the ground crew at the Kahului Airport on the island of Maui — and triggering a host of questions.

    How did he survive the flight?

    As unlikely as it sounds, officials believe the boy rode in a tiny, cramped compartment for almost five hours, at altitudes that reached 38,000 feet, without oxygen and in subzero temperatures.

    “It sounds really incredible,” said aviation expert Jeff Wise. “Being in a wheel well is like all of a sudden being on top of Mount Everest.”

    Between the oxygen depletion and the cold, life expectancy “is measured in minutes,” Wise said.

    But some people have survived. Since 1947, 105 people are known to have attempted to fly inside wheel wells on 94 flights worldwide, the Federal Aviation Administration’s Civil Aerospace Medical Institute says. Of those, 25 made it through, including a 9-year-old child — a survival rate of 24%. One of the flights went as high as 39,000 feet. Two others were at 38,000 feet.

    The conditions at high altitudes can put stowaways in a virtual “hibernative” state, the FAA said.

    Someone could slip into unconsciousness so that the body cools and “the central nervous system is preserved,” said CNN aviation expert Michael Kay. Also, he said, “there could be a situation where inside the bay is warmer than the external air temperature and you wouldn’t get the instantaneous freezing of the skin.”

    Still, “for somebody to survive multiple hours with that lack of oxygen and that cold is just miraculous,” airline analyst Peter Forman told CNN affiliate KHON in Honolulu.

    The boy’s survival is “dumb luck mostly,” says Dr. Kenneth Stahl, trauma surgeon at Miami’s Jackson Memorial Hospital. The temperature outside the airplane could have been as low as 75 or 80 degrees below zero, said Stahl, who is also a pilot. “Those are astronomically low temperatures to survive.”

    The boy was likely so cold that “he was essentially in a state of suspended animation,” Stahl said. Being young likely worked in his favor, too. “No adult would have survived that,” Stahl added.

    The boy could face permanent brain damage from the experience, in fact, it’s “more likely than not,” Stahl said. He could face neurological issues, memory problems or a lower IQ.

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