Sunday 8 December 2019

Boy's body found on air force plane

An RAF C-130J (Hercules)
An RAF C-130J (Hercules)

The body of a young stowaway has been found near the wheel well of a US Air Force cargo plane that landed in Germany, triggering questions about the security of an aircraft that had made several stops in Africa.

Air force staff found the boy's body on Sunday night after spotting an orange cloth in a small opening by the landing gear during a detailed inspection of the C-130J aircraft when it landed at Ramstein Air Base.

When they tugged on the wet cloth, they discovered it was attached to a boy in the compartment.

Pentagon press secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby said the stowaway was a black boy who may have been of African origin. The plane was on a routine mission in Africa and had made stops in Senegal, Mali, Chad, Tunisia and Naval Air Station Sigonella in Sicily before arriving at Ramstein.

A senior US official said initial indications suggested the boy probably climbed aboard in Mali.

A stowaway aboard a military plane is a significant security breach. No Africa Command senior leaders were on the flight.

"Security is going to be looked at here. Obviously it would be," Rear Adm Kirby said. "We try to provide as much security as we can for our aircraft when they're operating in remote locations and this will all be part of the investigation."

He added, however, that some of the airfields where the planes land were very remote and the security was not always up to the standards followed in the US and other nations.

He had no details about how well-guarded the plane was during the Africa stops and said it was unclear how the boy managed to get into the compartment.

"We'll learn what happened here, and if there's corrective action that needs to be taken, we'll take it," he said.

The body was not detected in routine pre-flight and post-flight checks during the trip, but was found during a more detailed maintenance inspection of the cargo plane. The body was turned over to German authorities for a post-mortem examination and possible identification.

Rear Adm Kirby said the cause of death had not yet been determined, but lab results from samples taken from the body did not show communicable diseases. An Ebola outbreak in West Africa has killed at least 670 people, the largest outbreak in history with deaths blamed on the disease in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea and Nigeria.

The two-day delay in making the incident public was due to the process of having to remove the body, perform lab tests and provide official notifications to the German government, Rear Adm Kirby said.

The air force is conducting its own investigation, which will include a review of any potential security lapses.

In April, a Somali immigrant survived a flight from San Jose International Airport in California to Hawaii stowed away in the wheel well of a Boeing 767 commercial airliner.

PA Media

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