Two stowaways hid in a plane's landing gear - and fell to their death during takeoff
On Monday, three objects tumbled from a plane leaving Ecuador for New York, falling nearly 1,000 feet shortly after takeoff and landing with a thud on the runway.
Airport personnel rushed to the site, fearing LATAM Airlines flight XL1438 lost vital parts before leaving the port city of Guayaquil.
They arrived to find one person dead from the fall and another badly injured but alive. He would die minutes later, local media outlets reported. A suitcase with clothes and about $20 also was found.
The two men appear to have crawled into the landing gear section of the plane, said Gen. Marcelo Tobar, Guayaquil's police chief. He speculated they were either forced out by the mechanics of the gears or they had second thoughts and jumped in the hope they would survive, according to Ecuador-based El Comercio. The men, between the ages of 25 and 30, did not have identification.
Officials suggested the men were Peruvian because the flight originated in Lima with a stop in Guayaquil, but they later determined the stowaways likely climbed aboard in Ecuador, El Comercio reported.
The aircraft was forced to circle back and land at José Joaquín de Olmedo International Airport following the incident, LATAM Airlines Group spokesman David Harry said in a statement to The Washington Post. The men were not passengers, he said, adding the airline is cooperating with investigative authorities. The incident led to a 90-minute shutdown of the country's second largest airport.
Stowaways in the wheel well face extreme dangers, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. After the gears fold up and the plane climbs, the temperature can fall below zero as the air pressure plunges to dangerously low levels, sometimes inducing a hibernation-like state.
The survival rate for stowaways in 10 incidents involving 11 people (one flight recorded two stowaways) was essentially a toss up, according to an FAA incident summary. Two people froze to death and three fell to their deaths on flights between 1947 and 1993. The other six survived.
Stowaway miracles can happen. While other survivors may have encountered injuries, one teenager arrived unharmed in a 2014 flight from San Francisco to Hawaii.
In the same year, U.S. Air Force personnel found a dead boy in a compartment near a cargo jet's wheel well after stops in Africa. The boy appeared to be from Mali, the Pentagon said at the time, potentially fleeing the violence of the civil war entering its second year in 2014.