Stowaway Survives 11-Hour Flight in Nose Gear Well

Unidentified man stowed away on a cargo flight from Africa to Amsterdam.

The unidentified stowaway was found at Schiphol Amsterdam Airport. [File Photo: Adobe Stock]

Dutch police are questioning a man who stowed away in the nose-gear well of a cargo aircraft on a flight from Africa to Amsterdam over the weekend. The man, who has only been identified as an individual between the ages of 16 and 30, survived a more than 11-hour flight in the gear compartment of a Boeing 747.

According to CNN, when the Cargolux 747 landed in Schiphol Amsterdam on January 23, ground crew noticed the man and alerted authorities. He was still breathing but unconscious and hypothermic after the flight. He was taken to a local hospital for treatment.  

The nationality of the man has not been released, and it has not been determined how he accessed the aircraft.

The fact the man survived the more than 6,200-mile flight in the unheated, unpressurized landing gear compartment is unusual. It’s even more unusual when you consider the combination of freezing temperatures and lack of air pressure at cruising altitudes of up to 40,000 feet.

"We were surprised upon finding this man but even more surprised at him being alive after the airplane flew over 10,000 kilometers in very, very cold temperatures," Royal Dutch Military Police spokeswoman Joanne Helmonds told CNN. 

In addition to the freezing temperatures and lack of air pressure, stowaways are sometimes crushed by the landing gear assembly or mechanism—or they fall to their deaths when the gear is lowered on approach.

The flight originated from Johannesburg, South Africa, and made a stop in Nairobi, Kenya. Authorities are not sure where the man boarded the flight, or if he was attempting to sneak into the Netherlands, or if this is a case of human smuggling.

Cargolux, the Luxembourg-based cargo airline the stowaway was aboard, has declined comment on the situation until the investigation is completed. 

Meg Godlewski has been an aviation journalist for more than 24 years and a CFI for more than 20 years. If she is not flying or teaching aviation, she is writing about it. Meg is a founding member of the Pilot Proficiency Center at EAA AirVenture and excels at the application of simulation technology to flatten the learning curve. Follow Meg on Twitter @2Lewski.

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