How Does A Dead Man End Up In An Airplane Wheel Bay?

8/2/2010 – How Does A Dead Man End Up In An Airplane Wheel Bay?

On Sunday afternoon Delta Air Lines Flight 59, a Boeing 777-232, touched down at Tokyo’s Narita International Airport following a 10hr 18min flight from New York’s JFK International Airport.

The flight went as expected until routine maintenance revealed an unexpected piece of cargo that was found by a mechanic in the wheel bay of the aircraft … a dead body.  The dead person is described as a black man, wearing jeans and a long sleeve shirt was found with no passport or personal items.  It is likely that the stowaway died due to a combination of freezing and a shortage of oxygen in the non-pressurized wheel bay.

While neither Delta Air Lines or US and Japanese law enforcement agencies are revealing any details about the origins of the dead found inside the aircraft wheel bay this brings up some interesting questions about how he ended up where he was found.

Before you snap your fingers and say “He must have crawled in there during the flight,” the wheel bay cannot be accessed from inside the aircraft cabin (Unless you’re Arnold Schwarzenegger in terrible 1985 action movie “Commando”…don’t rent it, its terrible).

If the unidentified dead man crawled into the wheel bay at New York’s JFK International Airport then the airport has a significant security breach. It is not easy for someone to access the ramp at JFK Airport. Security from the terminal to the ramp is tight and access points to the ramp from the public roadways are tight.  There are always exceptions to the rule, but it is likely that someone would have noticed a man dressed in casually in jeans climbing up the wheel bay of a Boeing 777.

Prior to departing for Tokyo, the Boeing 777 flew from Atlanta to New York as Delta Flight 190 … not likely this person climbed into the aircraft in Atlanta either … so lets go back one more flight …

…what is one more flight back? That would be Delta Air Lines Flight 53 from Lagos Nigeria’s Murtala Muhammed Airport to Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. Airport security in Lagos, while having improved, is still quite relaxed.

While Dr. Harold Demuren, the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority’s Director General states that “Nigerian airports are operating within international standards and the U.S. Transportation Security Administration has approved Lagos airport last month [Nov 2009].” it appears that the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) standards for approving security Lagos for direct flights to the United States just aren’t good enough.

The TSA standards for Lagos not being good enough isn’t my opinion, it is the opinion of the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) who has Lagos on a list of airports with sub-standard security.

Is it possible that this dead body had flown 13,348miles, over the Atlantic from Africa to East Coast of the United States then over the Pacific to Japan before being discovered?  It is quite plausible since the body didn’t ‘fall out’ of the wheel bay; a mechanic looking inside the wheel bay discovered it.

Delta Air Lines Boeing 777-232 arrived from Lagos in Atlanta at 5:30am as Flight DL53, it then departed Atlanta at 7:40am and arrived in New York at 9:55am as Flight DL190…finally departing New York for Tokyo at 12:40pm as Flight DL 59.

There is not much time between all of these flights to keep the aircraft moving. As there were no mechanical issues, there would have been no reason for a mechanic to climb up into the wheel bay to inspect the interior of the wheel bay…so it is possible this unidentified dead body started its journey the night of February 5th in Lagos, Nigeria.  The nighttime departure of Flight DL 53 at 10:55pm coupled with poor security could be an ideal location for someone to try and stowaway on a flight to the United States.

Hopefully law enforcement is able to identify the deceased stowaway and not only determine where he boarded the plane, but also determine how he was able to board undetected.

Happy Flying… and rest in peace whoever you are.


  1. Ok, now that just makes no sense at all!

    Commando is Arnold at his near-finest, thoroughly entertaining, featuring some of Arnold’s best lines: “This is my veek ahm!” and, btw, featuring a very young Alissa Milano in one of her earliest roles as Arnold’s daughter.

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