Can I survive in the wheel well of a 747?

by beagoodmom on April 13, 2007

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I read an interesting article on CNN.com a while back about a stowaway found in the wheel well of a 747 after a transatlantic flight. Apparently, another stowaway was found in a plane’s wheel well on Jan 12 after a Sudan-to-Atlanta flight. Both men had died. This led to a big question that I had to Google. Could a person survive in the wheel well of an airplane? The immediate answer would seem to be “NO!” But then why do people try it? I am sure I have read about this before these 2 cases. Surprisingly, I could not find the answer to my question directly on Google, so I asked a few of my work friends what they thought. They brought up some interesting points.

Temperature: The average temperature at 30,000 (average cruising height for an aircraft) ft is -49 degrees Fahrenheit. If any part of the person’s body was exposed, the wind chill would of course be ridiculous; planes fly at over 500 miles per hour. When your body core temperature drops to 82 degrees or below, death is likely. I am not sure how long it would take for the core temperature to drop to 82 degrees, but I assume it’s not long at that temperature. I also learned on this website that you can freeze your corneas if you open your eyes at extremely low temperatures with extremely high winds. Not really relevant in this case, since the stowaways are probably inside the retracted wheel mechanism , but interesting nonetheless.

Air Pressure: At 30,000 ft the atmosphere has 30% of the oxygen you would have at sea level. Ascending to that height very rapidly could kill you instantly as your brain and lungs are deprived of oxygen immediately.

The Wheel mechanisms: the wheels of an airplane retract and extend, but the space in which they do so is very small. Being crushed by the wheels themselves as they are retracted is very likely.

So, all we could come up with at work was that people must not know these 3 important facts, or they would never consider stowing away in a plane’s wheel well. Maybe before they do it, they Google “can I survive in the wheel well of an airplane” and get no responses, just like I did. Then they mistakenly believe the answer must be “yes, you can survive.” For that reason, I am posting this important public service announcement and relying on beagooddad’s popularity with Google to get it posted high in the search engines so no other idiot makes the same mistake.

Can I survive in the wheel well of a 747? No!

Update: It looks like somebody forgot to read this post before crawling into the nose gear of an airplane flying from China to San Francisco.

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