SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) — A teenager who survived a flight to Hawaii as a stowaway in the plane’s wheel well said he hopped on the closest flight that was going west in an effort to find his birth mom and can’t believe he survived the journey.
Yahya Abdi, 15, spoke over Google Chat to KPIX-5 in his first public comments since his improbable survival during the 5 1/2-hour flight from San Jose to Maui in April. The interview was reported on Tuesday night.
Yahya, a Somali immigrant, ran away from his Santa Clara home and hopped a fence at Mineta San Jose International Airport. He crouched down in the wheel well of the Hawaiian Airlines flight and remembers covering his ears as the plane took off, he said.
“It was above the clouds, I could see through the little holes,” Yahya said.
Yahya survived the flight at 35,000 feet despite low oxygen and freezing temperatures. Video footage from the Maui airport shows him dropping to the tarmac about an hour after the jet landed.
The teen said he made the decision to get on board the plane because he didn’t want to live with his stepmom and wanted to find his mother, who he hasn’t seen since he was seven years old. She lives in Africa.
Yahya spoke to her on the phone on Tuesday.
“I would tell her to live with me in America,” he said.
His mom, Ubah Mohammed Abdule, confirmed the conversation to The Associated Press.
“He says, ‘Mom, you are not dead for sure?'” Abdule told the AP. “‘I thought you died in a boat trip. This is incredible news!’ Then he became silent for a moment. Then he cried.”
Yahya is staying at a temporary foster home. He will be a junior in high school this fall and plans to live with his aunt in the Minneapolis area, KPIX-5 reported.
Yahya has been spending his days doing normal teenage things. “I’ve been going to the movie theater and playing video games,” he said.
Earlier this year, police said they were investigating possible criminal charges against the boy for climbing the airport fence, and that the teen was being cared for by child protective services.
The Santa Clara County Office of the Public Defender confirms it has been appointed to “advise and assist” the boy but could not explain in what capacity due to juvenile privacy rules.