Kenya’s national carrier, Kenya Airways (KQ) on Monday announced the sad news of a dead stowaway who dropped dead in one of its planes plying the Nairobi- London route.
Important lessons from Kenyan man who died after hiding in KQ flight to London
Be warned, never try this suicide mission
A stowaway is a person who secretly boards a vehicle in order to travel without being detected.
Stowaways are common in trains plying Nairobi routes as low income earners usually deploy all manner of tricks to avoid paying fare.
However, being a stowaway in a plane, especially for long flights outside the country, is an extremely risky affair.
Globally, less than 21 percent of airplane stowaways have made it alive to their destination, since 1903 when the Wright Brothers invented aeroplanes.
Most stowaways, like the one on the KQ flight, hide in the wheel well when the plane is parked on the air side.
Once the plane has taken off, the wheels fold and are locked, only opening up when the plane is preparing to land.
The immediate risk is that of being crashed by the wheel hydraulics as they fold, but the wheel well is spacious and most stowaways are successful at this stage.
Once the wheels have closed in, the danger escalates, there is little oxygen in the closed compartment – most stowaways become unconscious within a few minutes of the plane taking off.
Landing Gear Engaged
In this state of unconsciousness, the risk of falling off the plane increase once the captain engages the landing gear. When the wheel well is opened, you would be hit by strong winds at speeds of about 200 mph, making it difficult to hold your ground.
Most stowaways mitigate this risk by carrying ropes and tying themselves in the wheel compartment.
The third danger can be explained with Geography 101 – the higher you go, the cooler it becomes.
As the plane cruises up the skies, the wheel temperatures become very low – the rest of the crew is protected by the air conditioning which does not work in the wheel well.
If you are flying the 45-minute flight from Mombasa to Nairobi, the chances of survival is high as planes plying short distances do not go very high.
However, for flights lasting more than two hours, the chances significantly reduce as some planes will go as high as altitude of 38,000 feet, with temperatures going as low as negative 62 degrees Celsius.
For perspective, a deep freezer has an average temperature of negative 20 degrees Celcius – your hiding place would be nearly three times colder.
At such temperatures, the body enters a state of hibernation where heartbeats and breaths slow and cellular activity nearly stops.
Even with the warmest clothing – the risk of death is almost certain, especially if the flight takes more than an hour in the high attitude.
Despite these risks, a few risk takers have survived – mostly by sheer luck.
In some instances, stowaways are saved by storms that prevent the captain from flying high attitudes, a broken compartment would also provide some much needed warmth and reduce the risk of death – either way, this is a suicide mission that you should be well advised to keep off!
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