A teen stowaway from California who flew to Hawaii tucked into a plane's wheel well may have been trying to reach family in Africa, where his biological mother lives, an NBC affiliate in Hawaii reported.
A teacher and classmate described the 15-year-old to NBC Bay Area on Tuesday as a quiet boy who, despite some troubles in his English class, mostly keeps to himself.
The boy, who attends high school in the Santa Clara Unified School District, lives with his biological father and a stepmother in Santa Clara, police told Hawaii News Now. But the station reported that the teen was not happy living with so many siblings and step-siblings, and wanted to reunite with his mother in Somalia.
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The teen's former English teacher at Oak Grove High, Keith Chung, told NBC Bay Area he did not know much about the teen, other than that he had moved to the U.S. from Africa three years ago and that his father was a cab driver.
Chung said the boy had some recent run-ins in his English-learning class. Those issues, on which Chung did not elaborate, had culminated in a transfer to Santa Clara High.
"I'm totally shocked," Chung said. "I had this random thought that when I heard the news, that wouldn't it be funny if he went to Oak Grove? No, I wouldn't think he would do anything that this. He's very quiet."
Student Emanuael Golla, 18, told NBC Bay Area that the teen had just transferred to Santa Clara High about five weeks ago. Golla described him as very quiet, someone who kept to himself.
And Santa Clara High Principal Greg Shelby said that when the teen returns to school, he will be able to receive psychological services if he wants.
What prompted the teen to hitch a hazardous ride inside the wheel well of a Hawaiian Airlines plane Sunday at San Jose International Airport remains unclear.
Hawaii News Now reporter Lynn Kawano spoke to a source in the Maui police department who told her that the teen had run away after getting into an argument with his father. The teen then either misunderstood or couldn't read the information on the plane he jumped into, before making the 5 1/2-hour journey to Hawaii. He told the FBI when he landed and was found walking around on the tarmac that he had had a fight with his family, according to Kawano.
But the teen's family told NBC Bay Area in a brief interview Monday that the reports of an argument were untrue.
Both FBI Special Agent Tom Simon and Maui Police Lt. William Juan declined to confirm or deny to NBC Bay Area the report that the boy was trying to head to Africa.
The Department of Human Services in Hawaii said the teen was in the care of Child Welfare Services, and the agency is doing what needs to be done to "ensure the child's safe return to his home in California." While the teen was said to have miraculously survived, Hawaii News Now said he was taken from a hospital in Maui to a hospital in Oahu.
The teen's journey has raised questions about airport security, with many wondering how anyone — especially a high schooler — could scale the barbed wire fence at the airport and escape scrutiny before hiding in the wheel well of a Boeing 767.
Many have also questioned how a person could actually survive a flight in 80-below temperatures with little oxygen flying at 38,000 feet.
The FBI said the teen was was unconscious for most of the flight, and that it was "clearly amazing" that the boy exited the wheel well unscathed.
According to the FAA, the last known survivor of a stowaway incident was in August 2013 on a domestic flight within Nigeria. Since 1947, the FAA has recorded 94 stowaway incidents involving 105 people. Of those, only 25 survived.
NBC Bay Area's Chase Cain and Dan Pyryt contributed to this report.