SANTA CLARA, Calif. — The California teenager who defied laws and nature by surviving a plane ride to Hawaii as a stowaway in the wheel well says he remembers seeing the ocean from 38,000 feet above Earth.
“It was above the clouds, I could see through the little holes,” Yahya Abdi, 15, of Santa Clara told KPIX on Wednesday.
In his first interview since sneaking into an airliner’s wheel compartment in April, the boy from Somalia said he sneaked into the Maui-bound Boeing 767 in a scheme to see his mother in Africa, where she lives in a refugee camp in Ethiopia.
Yahya planned for some time to sneak onto the tarmac of San Jose International Airport, and he finally hopped the airport fence on April 20 shortly after 1 a.m.
After eluding detection for six hours, he finally chose a plane to crawl into — randomly.
“I took that plane because it was the closest one I could find that was going to go west,” Yahya told the news outlet in an online interview using Google Chat.
That plane ride lasted five and a half hours, reaching an altitude of 38,000 feet where the oxygen is thin and temperatures fall below freezing.
Yet, Yahya survived — something he still has trouble believing. He was temporarily hospitalized in Hawaii after being discovered and caught.
His defiance of airport security and danger drew national attention.
The boy crouched in the wheel well as the airliner took off and covered his ears, he told the station.
He sat on the inside of the plane’s shell, and he told authorities that he lost consciousness during some of the flight.
Yahya has since regained some of his hearing and is now in good physical condition.
Before the boy became a stowaway, he became a runaway: He left his stepmother’s home in April because he was unhappy there, he told the affiliate. His fleeing had nothing to do with his troubles at school, he said.
“I only did it because I didn’t want to live with my stepmom. Second of all, I wanted to find my mom. I haven’t seen her since I was young,” the boy said.
He last saw his mother when he was 7 years old.
He misses her, and he spoke to her by phone on Tuesday, he told the news outlet.
“I would tell her to live with me in America,” he said.
A high school student who will be a junior next fall, Yahya is now staying at a temporary foster home and hopes to move soon to Minneapolis to live with an aunt, he told the affiliate. He wants to join the U.S. Army after graduation.
But federal authorities haven’t indicated yet whether they will allow the boy to board a plane to fly to Minnesota, KPIX reported.
In the meantime, Yahya says he’s enjoying typical teenager activities.
“I’ve been going to the movie theater and playing video games,” he said.
As for anyone thinking of repeating his amazing stunt, he has this advice.
“They shouldn’t run away because sometimes they will end up dying,” he told the affiliate.