Editorial: How, exactly, did stowaway evade security at the airport?

The Fresno BeeApril 23, 2014 

Teen Stowaway Hawaii

Hawaiian Airlines Flight 45 arrives from San Jose in Kahului Airport in Kahului, Hawaii, on April 21. A 15-year-old boy on Sunday scrambled over an airport fence, crossed a tarmac and climbed into a jetliner's wheel well, then flew for five freezing hours to Hawaii on a misadventure that forced authorities to take a hard look at the security system that protects the nation's airline fleet.


In our post-9/11 airport security environment, it was disturbing, to say the least, that a 15-year-old boy jumped a fence at San Jose International Airport and burrowed his way into a Hawaiian Air Boeing 767 wheel well.

The boy survived a flight of more than five hours to Maui's Kahului Airport. He apparently was unconscious for much of the time.

Only about 24% of people who have pulled this stunt have survived, so we are grateful the boy's impulsive mistake didn't result in his demise.

Let us now switch to outrage that something like this can still happen after the massive new security measures set up following the attacks on New York and the Pentagon.

Most Americans have experienced inconvenience and occasional insults while going through Transportation Security Administration checkpoints in U.S. airports.

We have become experts at the speedy removal of shoes while chasing conveyor belts, juggling large plastic bins, carefully removing laptops from bags, not wearing belts and standing like scarecrows while having full-body imaging scans.

The vigilant self-policing of 3-ounce bottles of sunscreen, nail clippers and other WMD have created headaches for millions of Americans, but we are a resilient people.

We expect that in return for the indignities, we should feel reasonably certain that a 15-year-old boy isn't hopping a camera-monitored security perimeter at the airport and doing some hitchhiking at 35,000 feet.

In an environment in which an elderly woman can be forced to surrender her dental adhesive in the name of security, certainly the federal government should be able to handle something like what happened on the supposedly well-secured San Jose tarmac.

California Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Dublin, a member of the House Homeland Security Committee, noted that this sort of thing "demonstrates vulnerabilities that need to be addressed." Nice use of understatement.

What if, say, the stowaway had not been a reckless teenager on a 50-degrees-below-zero joyride and had instead been a terrorist with a backpack bomb?

The 10 crew members and 212 passengers of the Maui flight had a good anecdote upon arrival. But they might have had a stiff Mai Tai or two at the hotel bar after pondering how vulnerable they had been.

Federal officials should review the entire TSA system, as well as airport perimeter security.

Security personnel should look into wheel wells during inspections immediately before takeoff. It's the least they can do, as they demand that we paying passengers give up our 6-ounce bottles of hand lotion.


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