SAN JOSE, Calif. — A Somali immigrant who survived an arduous flight to Hawaii stowed away in a jet’s wheel well says he was trying to reach his mom, a refugee in Ethiopia who says her teenage son broke down in tears this week during their first call since his ordeal.
Mother Ubah Mohammed Abdule, who is seeking U.S. asylum, told the Associated Press Wednesday her son, who she hasn’t seen in eight years, cried on the phone Tuesday and told her he thought she was dead.
“He says, ‘Mom you are not dead for sure? I thought you died in a boat trip. This is incredible news.’ Then he became silent for a moment. Then he cried,” she said.
Yahya Abdi, 15, said Tuesday that he ran away from his Santa Clara home, hopped a fence at Mineta San Jose International Airport in April and climbed aboard the Hawaiian Airlines plane because it was the first flight he could find heading west, and he wanted to go see his mother. Yahya, who described crouching in the wheel well and covering his ears at take-off, made his first public comments during a Google Chat on Tuesday to KPIX-5.
“It was above the clouds, I could see through the little holes,” Yahya said, who gave short, stilted answers.
When asked if he can believe he survived the trip, Yahya paused several seconds: “Uh, no.” But he also said he wasn’t scared.
Yahya survived the flight at 35,000 feet despite low oxygen and freezing temperatures. Video footage from the Maui airport shows him dropping to the tarmac about an hour after the jet landed.
The teen said he made the decision to get on board the plane because he didn’t want to live with his stepmom and wanted to find his mother, who he hasn’t seen since he was seven years old.
Yahya is staying at a temporary foster home. He will be a junior in high school this fall and plans to live with his aunt in the Minneapolis area.
Yahya has been spending his days doing normal teenage things. “I’ve been going to the movie theater and playing video games,” he told KPIX-5.
Earlier this year, police said they were investigating possible criminal charges against the boy for climbing the airport fence, and that the teen was being cared for by child protective services.
The Santa Clara County Office of the Public Defender confirms it has been appointed to “advise and assist” the boy, but could not say in what capacity due to juvenile privacy rules.
A family spokeswoman forwarded questions on Wednesday from AP to father Abdilahi Yusuf, a Santa Clara taxi driver, about why his son is not living with him. As with past requests, Yusuf has not responded. The spokeswoman, Zahra Billoo with the Council on American-Islamic Relations, says the family wants to maintain their privacy.
Associated Press reporter Abdi Guled contributed to this story from Mogadishu, Somalia.