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Man 'lucky' to survive trip in jet's wheel well

A Cuban airport worker spends four hours in the freezing, oxygen-deprived compartment during his escape flight to Canada.

©Associated Press
December 11, 2002

MONTREAL -- A Cuban stowaway who endured freezing temperatures and almost no oxygen for four hours in the wheel well of a Canada-bound airliner is seeking refugee status here.

The stowaway, who cannot be named because of a publication ban by the Refugee Board, landed at Dorval airport in Montreal on Friday. He was told Monday he must remain in custody until his next hearing Friday.

The man, an airport worker at the Havana airport, sneaked into the wheel well of the Cubana DC-10 before it left for the Cayo Coco resort east of Havana and then headed to Montreal.

"I consider myself very lucky to have survived. Thank God," the man, who looked to be in his 20s, said Monday evening after his first appearance before the refugee panel.

During the flight, he held onto a heating pipe, wrapping his shirt around it to hold on. The temperature in the hold was believed to be about minus 40 degrees during much of the four-hour flight, with little oxygen at an altitude of 30,000 feet.

"I kept my face close to it, and that helped me to breathe," he told the news channel LCN.

If it weren't for the hot-air tube in the wheel well, he probably would have frozen to death. The man said he held onto a length of rubber piping when the landing gear opened beneath him.

The man was hospitalized for hypothermia and exhaustion, and then put in immigration custody.

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