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‘Extraordinary’ that stowaway survived freezing flight from SA to Netherlands

He might have gone into suspended animation like a hibernating bear but most are not so lucky, says expert

24 January 2022 - 15:27
'The man is doing well considering the circumstances and has been taken to a hospital,' said police in the Netherlands. File photo.
'The man is doing well considering the circumstances and has been taken to a hospital,' said police in the Netherlands. File photo.
Image: Yves Herman/Reuters

“There is not enough oxygen to breathe so people will not understand how any stowaway manages to survive.”

That’s the view of Dr Guy Leitch, editor of SA Flyer Magazine, in response to news that a stowaway survived after hitching a ride in the nose wheel cavity of a cargo flight between SA and Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport on Sunday.

Dutch military police in Amsterdam discovered the stowaway when the aircraft landed.

“The fact is, no one can believe it. It’s extraordinary that anyone can survive like that,” said Leitch. “It takes humans about six months to acclimatise to be able to climb Mt Everest which is about about 8.5km and these aeroplanes now fly at 11,5km and the temperature up there can be anywhere from -50°C to -100°C,” he said.

Its extremely hard to believe that anyone managed to survive.
Dr Guy Leitch

Leitch said there was only speculation on how some stowaways manage to survive.

“There is not enough oxygen to breathe, so people will not understand how any stowaway manages to survive. There is speculation, and it’s only speculation, that they somehow fall into a sleep and go into suspended animation like a hibernating bear and wake up when the aircraft descends to warmer air with more oxygen,” he said.

Leitch said although most stowaways die, there have been survivors.

“It’s a 10½-hour flight which makes it particularly impressive or hard to believe that anyone could have survived the flight. There have been other flights over shorter distances where the plane may have taken off in Johannesburg, flown to Lagos and from Lagos into England. In Nairobi, it turned out that a stowaway had got aboard but died when the aeroplane lowered its wheel and the passenger fell into a garden in west London.”

Reuters reported that the only Cargolux freight flight arriving at Schiphol on Sunday was a Boeing 747 freighter that travelled from Johannesburg and made a stop in Nairobi, Kenya, according to Schiphol’s website and flight-tracking data.

The stowaway’s nationality and whether he was seeking asylum was yet to be determined. 

“The man is doing well considering the circumstances and has been taken to hospital,” said border police.


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