The 26-year-old Guatemalan risked hypothermia, hypoxia, being crushed by equipment, and falling to his death.
For the baggage handlers and tarmac crew of Miami International Airport, the morning of Nov. 27, 2021, seemed like any other. That all changed when American Airlines Flight 1182 landed and a 26-year-old man climbed out of its landing gear compartment — where he had survived a 2.5-hour flight from Guatemala City.
According to The New York Times, nobody aboard the aircraft had been aware of the desperate stowaway until the Boeing 737 landed in Miami shortly after 10 a.m. American Airlines spokesperson Alfredo Garduño said the passenger “was met by law enforcement due to a security issue” as soon as he exited the vehicle.
According to The Dallas Morning News, the yet unidentified stowaway barely escaped with his life. The non-pressurized and non-climate controlled areas of planes reach temperatures of 65 degrees below zero. Risks also involve dying of hypothermia, hypoxia, being crushed by internal equipment — or falling to one’s death.
Although the risks seem unimaginable to most, according to The Guardian, a vast portion of the 1.7 million migrants detained or expelled by U.S. border agents in the last year were Central Americans who were willing to accept them — and were escaping gangs or crushing poverty back home.
One of the airport workers who first encountered the stowaway immediately took out his phone and began recording. Some of the tarmac workers began speaking to the man in Spanish as he sat down on the cement. Asking to remain anonymous, the employee provided the @onlyindade Instagram page with his footage — which documented the migrant’s sheer exhaustion as workers peered into the landing gear compartment.
“Yeah, he survived,” one of them said while talking on a cellphone. “He survived.”
The footage spread like wildfire and soon found its way to Miami-based television station WTVJ.
The dazed Guatemalan man appeared to be in control of all his faculties but had clearly suffered physical exhaustion. Dressed in a t-shirt and blue jeans with a jacket and boots on, he was offered water by workers and took his first sips after hours in the air. That’s when U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) arrived.
“The individual was evaluated by emergency medical services and taken to a hospital for medical assessment,” said the CBP in a statement. “Persons are taking extreme risks when they try to conceal themselves in confined spaces such as an aircraft. This incident remains under investigation.”
While it remains unclear what exactly will happen to the courageous stowaway, it’s likely that immigration officials will force him to return home. Central America at large has been plagued by skyrocketing poverty rates and wanton violence, while Guatemala itself has been facing a hunger crisis.
Ultimately, the stowaway was incredibly lucky. The Federal Aviation Administration declined to comment on this particular incident, but previously explained just how lethal hiding in an airplane’s wheel wells can be — as 100 of the 129 people who’ve attempted to do so since 1947 have died of either injury or exposure.
The FAA also explained that the wheels themselves yield “significant heat” as they’re retracted into the plane after take-off. After dodging the moving parts in the landing gear compartment, one faces lethal temperature drops. And while hypoxia and hypothermia together can preserve the nervous system, it’s a dangerous risk.
Naturally, voluntarily confronting those possibilities is largely rooted in sheer desperation to flee even more likely problems. It was only in 2019 that a man fell out of the landing gear compartment of a Kenyan Airways flight departing Nairobi. Hoping to flee his economic situation, he crashed into a London garden and died.
After reading about the Guatemalan stowaway discovered in Miami, learn about the stowaway cat that caused an emergency landing. Then, read about the “serial stowaway” who was arrested after her 10th time.