View Full Version : Body found in jet's wheel compartment

31st Dec 2003, 20:32
Anyone know anything 'bout this. I recall a very recent thread about this topic but all posts related to flights originating in Africa and how to stop it. If the following is correct then either someone managed to get past security at Heathrow or they were stuck there from an earlier sector

Body found in jet's wheel compartment 
31/12/2003 - 10:32:42 am
The body of a man was found in the wheel compartment of a British Airways plane that had flown from Heathrow Airport, London to John F Kennedy International Airport, New York, authorities said today.
Police found the body of a man believed to be in his 30s on BA Flight 177 after the plane landed at 6:30pm last night, according to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
The Queens District Attorney, federal Transportation Security Administration, FBI and city Medical Examiner’s office were investigating.
Last week, the body of a man in his 20s was found in the wheel well of a flight to Kennedy Airport from Montego Bay, Jamaica.

aluminium persuader
31st Dec 2003, 20:35
Given the security climate, that's really worrying What if... etc.


31st Dec 2003, 20:45
Very sad of course if true, and with security implications.

What I can't understand is why anyone would want to get into the US from the UK - may suggest that the unfortunate person originated on the previous sector.

aluminium persuader
31st Dec 2003, 21:26
Doesn't say much for the walk-round, then.

31st Dec 2003, 21:58
The unfortunate stowaway got on the aircraft at Cairo and flew with the aircraft on two sectors before being discovered.

31st Dec 2003, 22:12
Maybe a naive question, but why can't the ground crew do a quick scan of all wheel wells just before push back? I would think that, in today's climate, it is a no brainer. If someone can get in so easily, what is to prevent them from bringing an altitude triggered device with them? REAL scary thought. Any comments from the ground handling community?

31st Dec 2003, 22:38
I agree with patrical, It would be a novel idea to have the ground crew do a quick walk around prior to pushback. As an FE on a B-747 freighter I am required to do a walk around and lately I've been much more dilegent in inspecting the wheel wells for anything unusual but, the flight crew has no control once the doors are closed. Our employers may have to spend the extra nickle to the ground handlers to provide this extra service so , maybe that's why this service is not provided.:*

31st Dec 2003, 22:41
I seem to recall that when a similar situation was recently discused on here it was mentioned that with some a/c it isn't all that easy to see up into the compartment (begs the question of how someone gets in there, I know!!) so a quick visual-check by the ground-handlers mightn't spot anything!! Comments were made (and quickly dismissed) about putting cameras in the wells linked to the flight-deck but I guess it really comes down to security at airfields particularly when at hold points prior to take-off

31st Dec 2003, 23:15
sensors should be put in the wheel wells not cameras.....probably only cost the manufactures an extra grand or so to do this, even tho if it was a DIY job, around a tener would do it. :D

1st Jan 2004, 00:09
From my recollection it is particularly difficult to inspect the main gear wheel wells on a 777 without dropping the doors. Not sure if this was a 777 mind.

Perhaps a policy of dropping the doors on types like the 777 and 747 should be considered.


1st Jan 2004, 00:37
Here's an update on the story:

2nd stowaway at JFK


A stowaway was found dead last night in the wheel well of a passenger jet that had flown to Kennedy Airport from London, authorities said.
It was the second time in a week that a dead stowaway turned up at the airport, raising further concerns about airline security while the nation is in a heightened state of alert because of terror threats.

Port Authority spokesman Tony Ciavolella said British Airways officials notified PA cops after the man's body was discovered during a maintenance inspection of the Boeing 747-400 about 6:30 p.m.

"It's really scary to know that people can just walk up to a plane that way in other countries," a law enforcement source said. "Obviously, the biggest threat is somebody who gets on a plane as a suicide bomber. He might not make it, but that stuff can go off, and where is the wheel well? Between the fuel tanks."

British Airways spokeswoman Honor Verrier said, "There did appear to be a body of an apparent stowaway."

Flight 177 originated in London, she said.

The law enforcement source said authorities were investigating whether the man had slipped aboard in Nigeria, where the plane had taken off Dec. 24. The source said the stowaway, who was black and in his 30s, was carrying Nigerian currency and wearing a wrist watch that stopped at 7 p.m. Christmas Eve.

Since last Wednesday, the plane has also made stops in Cairo, London, Washington and New York, the source said. He noted it was virtually impossible for anyone to survive a trip in a wheel well because of the freezing temperatures and oxygen deprivation at high altitudes.

The FBI has launched an investigation into the case.

Last week, a stowaway was found dead in the wheel well of an American Airlines jet at Kennedy.

The unidentified 25-year-old man was found on Christmas Eve by maintenance workers inspecting an aircraft that had arrived from Montego Bay, Jamaica.



It's a common story, often these incidents don't make the news in my experience. They occur quite frequently at international airports.

Here's some earlier threads on the sad subject:






Boss Raptor
1st Jan 2004, 00:43
Being used to 707, 727 and 757's...check the bays on pushback or just prior to engine start...the only problem being access to MLG bays with engines running

In this case I suggest BA have to answer as to how many rotations this body remained in the wheel bay before being found - suggest 'turnaround check' should include check wheel bays?! :uhoh:

Very sad though

Jet II
1st Jan 2004, 00:48
Who's going to be dropping the gear doors and checking inside them - a lot of airlines don't have Engineers doing the push-backs now. Are you suggesting Loaders or Tug drivers?

1st Jan 2004, 01:01
<<Are you suggesting Loaders or Tug drivers?>>

No I'm not. I am suggesting that if there is a security problem (which seems to be the case here) then that problem needs to be addressed. If that means allocating properly qualified people to the task then I'm sure the airlines will do so without thought to the cost.:D After all safety is their first priority right?


Jet II
1st Jan 2004, 01:14
I'm sure the airlines will do so without thought to the cost. After all safety is their first priority right?

Very droll;)

Boss Raptor
1st Jan 2004, 01:26
Well someone better start checking the wheel bays...bit out of touch still work with guys who have engineers do a turnaround... :uhoh:

1st Jan 2004, 03:57
CCTV cameras have now become part of our daily lives. I think that they would be a big help in solving this problem.

1st Jan 2004, 04:26
I think cameras in the MLG wells may be the best option. Some airports will always have crap security, and allow these people to stow away.

Why oh why in todays security climate people with ramp access are not screened like pax is beyond me. Even cargo from the "trusted shipper" scheme is not reguarly x-rayed and checked for explosives and the like.

I'm no security expert, but it seems to me like the weak link in the chain.

1st Jan 2004, 06:16
We will start having u/c bays checked, just as soon as some poor sod on the ground has been killed by a 75kg human "bomb". It's only a matter of time.

1st Jan 2004, 08:51
A wheel well inspection on the ramp prior to departure does not assure that someone can't get aboard later.
Desperate people who climb into wheel wells usually climb airport perimeter fences and position themselves at night beside the taxiways. Four years ago two young males had crowded into the nose wheel well of a taxiing DC8 en route CLO-MIA. Both had received fatal injuries during incomplete nose gear retraction and subsequent nose gear collapse after an air turn back to CLO. :{

1st Jan 2004, 09:17
Glueball has it.

Most (reconstructed) accounts of these 'draughty class' fliers have concluded they boarded the aircraft from the holding point.

Cameras would seem to be the most cost-effective safeguard.

1st Jan 2004, 12:24
i disagree with cameras, i believe a sensoring device would be of better use, then the captains wouldn't have to worry about an extra check. They will only have to worry about it if the light on the cockpit flashes to indicate movement in the well.

1st Jan 2004, 18:53
To be honest, my thoughts are condolences to the persons family.
For someone to have done this he/she must have been very desparate or scared.

1st Jan 2004, 19:58
"For someone to have done this he/she must have been very desparate or scared."

I'm not sure that's true.

eg The two Cubans who stowed away on a BA 777 out of Cuba a couple of years ago weren't motivated by either desperation or fear. They thought, wrongly, the aircraft was going to Florida and stowing away on a short flight was an easy way to get into American illegally.

eg People who cling to the underside of high speed trains through the channel tunnel aren't motivated by desperation or fear. They can apply for asylum in any European country and are safe in France. They prefer to come into the UK illegally and are prepared to cheat and jump ahead of the people applying by the rules.

Jim Morehead
1st Jan 2004, 23:45
Does anybody have a missing crew member that they sent out to do a walk around and didn't return the the cockpit? Were they all there when the checklist was read???

2nd Jan 2004, 00:25
I think we are all aware that the stowaways enter at the holding point. The need for checking wheelbays is based on the fact that often the body remains in the aircraft during the turnaround and falls out on a subsequent sector. Why let one tragic death become two?

2nd Jan 2004, 01:07
I have just read a local news report from Nigeria where it's claimed the man was Nigerian

A Nigerian was found dead Tuesday night in the wheel well of a British Airways plane at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport, United Stated authorities have said. Discovery of Nigerian currency notes in the 30 - 35 year old man and the fact that the plane made a stop over in Nigeria convinced the US that he is a Nigerian stowaway.
It also states that the aircraft was in Nigeria on Christmas eve. Given that this same aircraft would have operated a couple more sectors before the JFK flight, it's surprising he wasn't found earlier.
In support of Sooty, I think people do these things out of desperation.
From the same newspaper
However, it has been the plight of many young Nigerians to escape to other countries in an attempt to escape harsh economic realities at home engendered by high level official corruption.

2nd Jan 2004, 01:13
Considering the number of posts about Sky Marshalls on aircraft isn't anybody worried that it is so easy for someone to access an aircraft on the taxiways?

2nd Jan 2004, 04:01
Surely the low-tech approach is to fill any voids with light rigid foam blocks, and remove any ledges that allow stowaways to "roost"? :8

2nd Jan 2004, 08:49
I know i always check the L.G.B when i do my walk round is something i was tought when doing my training i know i am only a humble push back driver/ head set man but its my job to check the whole aircraft on my walk round the buck stops with me as i am the last one to check the aircraft

i was alwas told a job worth doing is a job worth doing properly :)

2nd Jan 2004, 14:12
If all available space is removed from the bays there would still be a place for the wheel to go! Filling all other space would ensure groundcrew have to remove the stowaway with a pressure washer instead of just levering out the frozen remains.

The point a few have made is that passengers/crew have to go throught all sorts of rigamarole to approach the aircraft, but here is a path that only requires a set of bolt cutters and a sense of timing.

I think more surveillance is neccessary, don't know how.

2nd Jan 2004, 16:50
Multiple barriers/fences/sensor fields around the runways and a great enough distance between the barriers and the apron to make it virtually impossible to defeat them all and sprint the distance to the holding jet in under 1 minute eg. about 1/3 mile secure perimeter with no cover.

Also, strategic deployment of some of those non-lethal technologies we keep hearing about, such as emission of low-frequency sounds that disorient and cause nausea...a few speakers around the end of the runways, pointed away from the aircraft, should make it very uncomfortable or impossible for anyone to lurk in the bushes.

Might even get rid of dangerous bird colonies and help avert birdstrikes.

2nd Jan 2004, 17:24

eg The two Cubans who stowed away on a BA 777 out of Cuba a couple of years ago weren't motivated by either desperation or fear. They thought, wrongly, the aircraft was going to Florida and stowing away on a short flight was an easy way to get into American illegally.

Cuban workers typically earn between 8 and 20 US Dollars a month and I believe that is motivation enough to attempt to migrate to pastures new.

I'm no expert but I guess that the additional space around the wheel is there to allow air cooling of the the wheel. I'm unconvinced of the advantages of converting a stowaway into paste. Sloping surfaces on the internal surfaces may make it more difficult though. All in all, it's a scary thought that it's just so easy to gain access to a wheel well when the "stowaway" could easily be a terrorist bomb. Clearly with increased passenger checking, the wheel bays present the obvious opportunity for terrorists to plant explosive devices.

2nd Jan 2004, 17:38
Cycle the gear a couple of times after take-off should sort this problem out!!!

2nd Jan 2004, 17:54
a while ago there was a stowaway who caused the LG light to stay on after retraction. The pilots recycled the gear, and the light went out.

The stowaway was pretty much frozen solid by the time he got to the US, but he survived. He recalled the wheels opening, thinking it was a miraculously short flight, and the horror of seeing the ocean hundreds of feet below. He managed to hang on, and avoid being crushed, until the gear was retracted again and the doors closed.

He was granted asylum by the US, and his story was published in Readers' Digest.

2nd Jan 2004, 18:09
TVR (and prob lucky/skilled to be alive ;) )
Great story until the last two words.

3rd Jan 2004, 00:33
I'd say the best way is to plaster the inside of the LG bay with little pictures like the ones on safety cards. But instead of cartoon women taking off their stilletoes before going down the chute you could have depictions of little thin stowaway man being crushed to death by a great fat aircraft Pirreli, or turning blue from lack of oxygen, or perhaps a little cartoon block of ice with a man inside it.

That'd make em think twice.

3rd Jan 2004, 00:53

You could put a specially shaped guard-dog in there. A fierce brown one, with big angry teeth.

3rd Jan 2004, 06:12
I'll go back to my original post. What happens when a "package" one of these folks is carrying goes off at 30,000+ feet. What effect would a bomb, and subsequently one or more tires blowing up too, have on an aircraft at altitude. Given all of the cancelled BA flights this week, I would think people in wheelwells would warrant whatever costs it would take to make sure they are not there.

3rd Jan 2004, 06:56

As the blast would be outside the pressure vessel it might not be as bad as if it was in the cargo bay. Though they will be near a lot of stuff that could be damaged. It would depend where in the wheel well they are I guess. In some parts it would be a pretty much non event (predicated on size of course) in other places it might be worse...

The wheel wells are BIG cavernous places that even with the doors open you might not see everything that is available to hide in. But if you went mucking around in there you are likely to damage something as well so its a tough thing to do.

I don't have the answer. I was looking at my A300 wheel wells today during walkaround thinking about that, and a couple of other points came to mind. Those doors are swung hydraulicly. They are VERY fast and powerful. Infact they are exceptionally dangerous. Every year someone gets cut in half by them just on the normal uses of them. IF you started swinging the doors before every push back you would probably kill a few more people every year, and you still haven't protected yourself from the guy that runs out of the long grass and scampers up the landing gear as you taxi out (probably how they all get on in the first place)


3rd Jan 2004, 07:31
Went to a CAA safety presentation about a year ago. A Doctor from the licensing department gave a presentation on stowaways in wheel wells.
Some key points I remember:
1) About 50% survive, which was why the CAA had apparently done a little investigating.
2) Temperature you would think would be significantly below freezing. Wrong. Most immediate problem is high temperature due to the brakes being hot still. Temperature in wheel wells in first hour of a long haul flight can be up to around +50 deg celcius. Coldest it gets to is about -5 deg celcius. Now this is no colder than Dartmoor in winter.
3) Eventually the stowaway will pass out due to the lack of oxygen. But as its cold (ish) oxygen requirement is greatly reduced. Hence around 50% survive.
4) What kills the other 50% is that someone selects gear down at around 2000ft on finals and our unconsious stowaway falls to his/her death.
5) Stowaways are not usually climbing up in to the undercarriage bay during a turnaround at a major international airport like EGLL etc. They generally climb in during taxi, at runway holds etc at more remote places around the world trying to get to a country like UK / USA etc etc.

With regard to the security issue, as with the Sky Marshalls thing, the answer lies, IMHO, in stopping the terrorist getting onboard the aircraft in the first place. IE airport security. All very well having some sort of CO2 detector system in the undercarriage bay, by the time you detector has allerted you, it could well be to late.....

3rd Jan 2004, 08:03
This is one problem that isn't going to go away, is it? Perimeter security will always be the Achille's heel, particularly in countries generating the stowaways.

We only hear about the frozen corpses and the occasional successful stowaway. How many more cop out at the last minute or don't quite make it before the aircraft starts moving?

A few posts on here mentioned CCTV and sensors and I'm sure there must be companies working on precisely that now. Isn't it rather a lot to expect that you can put a monitor on the flight deck and build a constant watch of it into the pre-departure procedures? The remedy might just turn out to be a lot worse than the disease.

But what if you had a monitor on the flight deck and another on a bulkhead in the cabin, with one of the cabin staff assigned to watch it during the departure taxiing pauses? The flight deck monitor only switched on when the need is felt for a view of the cabin.

Isn't it Airtours that have the forward-pointing CCTV mounted underneath? I wonder what a little pod of three infrared cameras placed under the fuselage midway between the nosegear and the leading edge of the wings would cost. Combined with motion sensors in the back corners of the main gear wheel bays, a few hundred thousand dollars per aircraft perhaps? Ouch.

As for terrorists placing or carrying bombs into wheel wells, isn't that a bit far-fetched considering shoulder-held alternatives released from the perimeter fencing itself?

3rd Jan 2004, 08:07
Wino, I don't know about the A300 but to cycle the gear doors on a 747 on the ground is not that simple and would take a long time to accomplish at the ramp. You would have to get a ground engineer to manually open four gear doors after depressurizing hydraulic systems 1 and 4 and re-pressurize to close the doors after inspection. Totally impractical to catch the stowaway that boards during taxi or at the holding point.

Planting an explosive device in a wheel well would by no means be a "non event" but apart from loss of hydraulics, fuel tank rupture, spar damage would in most likelyhood result in wing seperation. R.I.P.

3rd Jan 2004, 09:20
Ever looked at the spar of a wing? Think I beam...

Hard to cut without a shaped charge or prolonged heat I think. I know if you actually looked at it, your hair would fall out if you saw howmany cracks are probably stop drilled in it.... You are right about the fuel tanks though... On the otherhand if the charge isn't placed right against the spar, a lot of energy would just go out through the gear doors without the excess energy of the pressure vessel to cause secondary damage...

If the engines were running on the A300 you could pull and handle for each wheel well and the corresponding door would snap open and closed quite crisply. (works that way for the 727 and the 320 as well)

If you pulled the handles with the hydraulics depresssurized the door would lazily drift open. If you returned the handle to its proper positoin the door would stay there, but would snap upon aplication of hydraulics (one of the reasons you always check before pressurizing hydraulics, especially if the doors are open)


B Sousa
3rd Jan 2004, 13:44
After being Slammed for Insensitivity on the last thread, I will just suggest the following.
Regulation Seating and Oxygen to be installed in all wheels wells. Double Blanket ration. Inflight meals prestowed and acceptable to those thoses requiring special meals ie. (Religious or Vegetarian) and the ability to heat them on the brake pads.
As this is extremely discounted seating, no inflight movies.....


Someone in Management to figure out Whos responsibility it is to check these places thoroughly prior to departure.

3rd Jan 2004, 17:09
Any thoughts on luggage allowance?

Alty Meter
3rd Jan 2004, 17:39
The only things to be concerned about are the dangers of terrorists using the same method, and the danger to innocent people stowaways might fall on top of if they fall out from a great height. Fortunately they've fallen on open land so far so they haven't killed any innocent people.

If stowaways choose to take the risk that's up to them. They're trying to cheat the airline by getting a free ride and trying to cheat their way into a country without permission.
If they die, they die and it might discourage some other criminals from trying the same thing.

miss d point
3rd Jan 2004, 18:04

"i disagree with cameras, i believe a sensoring device would be of better use, then the captains wouldn't have to worry about an extra check. They will only have to worry about it if the light on the cockpit flashes to indicate movement in the well."

qrh - unauthorised movement in the wheelwell ! r u real ?

let me guess - fleeing persecution and in danger of his life ! perhaps we should ship some liberal minded do-gooders out to these places to secure their return to the uk.

has anyone thought it might be one of the groundcrew ?

isn't really a suprise, the security thing, anyone who has operated into these airports will know that it's a joke.

4th Jan 2004, 00:47
The worrying thing here is not the odd stowaway, he (and they are all male?) took a chance and well, er sad, but i shan't lose any sleep over it. The real worry is the al bin liner chappie who slips thro the fence to the holding point and slips his senmtex inside the well. If he was clever, in fact only half clever he could rig it to go off as the wheels come down (27L/R LHR!)

Little or no risk to him and with a BA timetable and a quick look at the weather charts you could be certain of the approach (Easterly or Westerly) there after everything would be banned from flying over Knightsbridge circle to land training (in sim renewals) might make a bit more sense then!!

Sure Al bin liner wouldn't get his seven Virgins for services rendered, but by now those 7 Virgins are getting well and truly "stuffed" in fact if they have that many Virgins i might change faith;)

A picture of Gerorge Bush in the wheel well would put most off or falling that just plaster the area with Pig pate':ok:

4th Jan 2004, 02:55
Checking the undercarriage bays prior to departure might stop some of the stowaways, but not all of them.
Even though the authorities have tightened up security here (Lagos), it's still not unusual when taxing, to pass people walking alongside the runway.
I've got photographs taken from a 747, of a family laying their laundry out to dry on the edge of the taxiway.


mealie puddin
4th Jan 2004, 20:44
If the oggies are daft enough to hide in a wheel well, then they deserve to be frozen or flattened! what can you say?

As far as all these ideas of putting cameras, sensors, spare crew, sky cops and all the other daftie thoughts, where are you going to draw the line. People should chill out a bit and get on with it

The only way to be 100% sure is not fly then they win!