A 22-year-old Kenyan man was found alive in the front wheel section of a cargo plane after the aircraft completed an 11-hour flight to Europe, according to authorities.
The man was found on Sunday morning in the nose wheel of the cargo plane, which flew from South Africa to Schiphol Airport near Amsterdam, Dutch military police said in a translated statement over the weekend.
“[He] is doing well under the circumstances and has been transported to the hospital,” police said in a tweet.
In an update on Monday, police said they are looking into whether the incident is a case of migrant smuggling.
“Our first concern of course was for his health,” military police spokeswoman Joanna Helmonds told Reuters. “This is definitely very unusual that someone was able to survive the cold at such a height — very, very unusual.”
The man has since applied for asylum, police also said on Monday.
In comments to the New York Times, Robert van Kapel, a spokesman for the military police, said he was unsure about the circumstances around the man’s asylum application.
“We of course see that a lot of people try to enter Europe for a better life,” he explained. “We see it every day, not only in airports but also in ports and highways.”
Van Kapel believed the man boarded the aircraft in Nairobi, Kenya’s capital, where it stopped en route to Amsterdam from Johannesburg, the largest city in South Africa.
While stowaways on flights are rare, those who managed to sneak into an aircraft’s wheel well will face freezing temperatures and low oxygen levels, increasing their risk of hypothermia and hypoxia, the Washington Post reported. They can also become crushed by the plane’s equipment, or fall from the plane itself.
In 2019, a stowaway fell from a plane flying over London and was killed when he crashed into a residential garden near a man who was sunbathing.
In November, a 26-year-old man survived a flight from Guatemala to Miami after hiding in the plant’s landing gear compartment.
At the age of 12 in 1946, Bas Wie became one of the earliest reported people to have survived a stowaway fight in a plane’s wheel compartment. He went on to marry and have five children before dying in 2016 at age 82.