The dead body of a young Nigerian man was discovered Friday in the wheel well, the undercarriage compartment of an Arik Air aircraft, after it returned from a flight to New York, United States.
One of the airline's officials who spoke to THISDAY said the deceased might have hidden himself in the wheel well for days and was crushed to death while the flight was airborne to the JF Kennedy Airport, New York, from the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos.
The official who spoke to THISDAY said the dead body was found during a check on the aircraft panel as it was being prepared for another flight and that the undercarriage compartment of the Airbus A340-500 is big enough to accommodate a person, besides the space for the tyres.
"He probably might have hidden himself there some days and died while the aircraft was on its way to New York. We found him when we were doing checks on the panel; the aircraft probably came back with him dead," the official said.
The source said that it is out of ignorance that people hide in the wheel well and plan to stowaway because "the compartment is not pressurised like the cabin of an aircraft and it is not heated, so survival is rare even if the person is not crushed by the wheels."
Pilots and aeronautical engineers familiar with the wheel well compartment said it is roomy enough to contain a human being, but it is highly unlikely that any one who hid there would come out alive after a flight that took several hours due to lack of oxygen.
The official attributed the incident to porous security at the airport, noting that "if having access to the airside is stringently prohibited, anybody that is not an official of airlines, handling companies and Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria would not gain access to the tarmac."
Another source said: "The security at the airport is very bad and that explains why somebody can gain access to the airside and inside the aircraft and no one will know.
Security around the cargo area is even worse and from there anybody can take anything into the tarmac. Now, it is a human being that is smuggled in; one day a dangerous object will be smuggled in."
THISDAY investigations revealed that stowaways connive with ground handling companies to access the airside and the wheel well.
"The handling company workers and the security operatives indulge in a lot of illicit activities at the airport and over the years there have been efforts to put a check on such excesses but every effort has so far failed," said another source.
In March 2010, a Nigerian, Okechukwu Okeke was found dead in the nose wheel compartment of the United States carrier, Delta Airline, Boeing B777 aircraft parked on the tarmac of the Lagos airport.