SAN JOSE, Calif. — The odyssey of a 15-year-old Somali immigrant who clambered into a jetliner wheel well in San Jose and defied the odds by surviving the flight to Hawaii remains unresolved more than two weeks after his astounding journey.
Yahya Abdi was placed in the custody of child protective services and has not returned to his father, stepmother and siblings in their Santa Clara, Calif., home. His mother is stuck in a refugee camp in Ethiopia, hoping to get asylum in the U.S. San Jose police say Abdi has an attorney and could face charges.
Q: WHY DID HE GO?
Abdi has not spoken publicly since he stumbled out of the landing gear compartment of a jet April 20 on Maui. But his friends who went to a mosque in California with him said he frequently talked about wanting to go home to Somalia because he missed his mom, Ubah Mohammed Abdule, and had trouble getting along with his dad and stepmom.
His mother, interviewed by the Associated Press at the Shedder Refugee Camp in Ethiopia, said the boy’s father told their children she was dead. She said they only recently learned she was alive from another Somali refugee who resettled in California. The father, Abdulahi Yusuf, said his son was struggling to adjust to life in America.
Q: HOW DID HE SURVIVE?
At 38,000 feet — the cruising altitude of the Hawaiian Airlines flight — the outside air temperature is about minus 85 degrees. The air is so thin a person will pass out when the brain is starved of oxygen.
Medical authorities in Hawaii have not discussed what they found while treating Abdi, but experts presume he entered a state akin to hibernation. Breathing, heart rate and brain activity continue but at a much slower-than-normal rate. Being younger helps, though surgeons might try to recreate this body state during open heart surgery on older people.
In addition, the plane’s own machinery can aid a stowaway’s survival. Heat radiating from the wheels and from hydraulic lines can moderate the temperature, at least initially.
COULD HE FACE CHARGES?
San Jose police spokesman Albert Morales says officers plan to interview Abdi and let the district attorney review whether trespassing charges are warranted. It is illegal to climb an airport perimeter security fence. Law enforcement officials who interviewed Abdi in Hawaii say he told them he climbed the fence, although no video footage or physical evidence has been found confirming that occurred.
WHY IS HE IN CHILD PROTECTIVE CUSTODY?
Due to privacy concerns, authorities cannot speak directly about Abdi’s case. However, Santa Clara County Social Services spokesman Stanley Lee has said the agency typically gets involved in situations where there are allegations of abuse or neglect.
Abdi’s mother, who has not spoken to her children since 2006, told reporters her husband mistreated the children and took them to the U.S. against her will. The father has not responded publicly to these allegations.
Santa Clara teens whose parents are deemed unfit are ideally sent to a relative’s home, but if that is not available they can be placed in a group home or with a foster family after an initial day at an intake and receiving center in downtown San Jose.
WHEN WILL HE BE RETURNED TO HIS FATHER?
Santa Clara County typically holds a hearing in Dependency Court within three court days to decide whether to return the child to parents or keep them in protective custody as a dependent of the court. All proceedings are confidential and can involve mediation. If a child becomes a dependent of the court, it usually holds a review hearing at least every six months. The goal of the agency and court is to reunify children with their parents, according to the agency’s website.
Associated Press writers Justin Pritchard in Los Angeles, Oskar Garcia in Honolulu and Elias Meseret in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, contributed to this report.