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Teen stowaway gets through airport security, stows away in wheel well, ends tragically.
December 10, 2010 3:29 PM   Subscribe

Authorities believe a 16 year old boy found dead last month on a Milton, MA street fell out of the wheel well of an aircraft. Last month, the suburb of Milton, MA, was horrified when the mutilated body of a teenager was found in the road. The body lacked identification, but was eventually found to be that of Delvonte Tisdale, age 16, from Charlotte, NC. The mystery of how he got there when he had been seen the night before in his bedroom seems to have been solved: authorities now believe he stowed away in the wheel well of an aircraft from Charlotte to Boston, and fell out as the airplane approached Logan airport.

"Authorities decided to go public with their evidence that Tisdale was a stowaway because the apparent breach of airport security was such a serious public safety issue, [DA] Keating said. He said he'd informed the TSA, and expected them to thoroughly investigate."
posted by kpht (59 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
That seems like it'd be pretty uncomfortable, and wouldn't he have a hard time breathing at the altitude a plane would fly at?

Great publicity for the TSA too (although it's not like this shatters their great reputation or anything).
posted by DMan at 3:35 PM on December 10, 2010


Wouldn't he have frozen to death, up in the air? Or died from lack of oxygen? A tragedy, any way it went down happened.
posted by Danf at 3:37 PM on December 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


Dammit! was composing links trying to put together my first post, but you beat me to it. :-p this is a fascinating story though. surprising, no comment yet from tsa. or perhaps unsurprising, even though this happened nearly a month ago.
posted by raztaj at 3:37 PM on December 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


Never miss an opportunity for some terrorism related whataboutery.

"..but this could have been a bomb," the mantra of the 21st century.

.
posted by fire&wings at 3:38 PM on December 10, 2010 [16 favorites]


I didn't think it would be possible to even survive the freezing temperatures and lack of oxygen, but there have been survivors.
posted by kpht at 3:39 PM on December 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


Not so rare, apparently. [PDF]

And sometimes they survive.
posted by chavenet at 3:40 PM on December 10, 2010


fire&wings - i may have misinterpreted or misheard, but watching the press conference from DA Keating, he seemed to indicate that mentioning the security breech was important - not just in terms of a terrorism risk, but because the patdowns and scanners don't really provide fool proof security. i suspected a bit of skepticism in his tone that the recent enhanced tsa gropings and nudiescanners do a damn thing, besides on a superficial for-show level.
posted by raztaj at 3:43 PM on December 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


Doesn't say so but it's likely he was dead or unconscious when he fell out and that was why he fell.
posted by oneswellfoop at 3:44 PM on December 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


There's a bunch of problems with trying to stow away a wheel well. Anyways, bummer for the kid and his family. At least they got some closure, however brutal.
posted by patr1ck at 3:44 PM on December 10, 2010


This was a really weird story, and if I recall correctly kind of had a strange quasi-racist undertone at the beginning. When a dead black dude was found in Milton, the first place they looked for a connection was Roxbury.
posted by rollbiz at 3:45 PM on December 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


Doesn't say so but it's likely he was dead or unconscious when he fell out and that was why he fell.

I was assuming the same. It's probably little comfort to the family, but he likely passed out and never woke up once the oxygen and temps dropped. I wonder if he even knew where the plane was headed.
posted by kpht at 3:47 PM on December 10, 2010


I should explain that Milton is a super-wealthy and mostly white suburb (although our governor, who is black, lives there). Roxbury is the polar opposite of that.
posted by rollbiz at 3:52 PM on December 10, 2010


To be fair to the Milton PD, the neighboring towns of Mattapan and Roxbury do suffer a surplus of dead black dudes. The most parsimonious explanation for a dead black body in Milton is not that it fell from the sky. I fail to see the quasi-racism.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 3:59 PM on December 10, 2010 [28 favorites]


A one-way ticket from Charlotte to Baltimore on US Airways would have been $99. A Greyhound ticket would have been $89. A phone call to any number of runaway support lines would have been free.

It is so sad that this teen was desparate enough to risk his life in that way.
posted by rh at 4:00 PM on December 10, 2010 [9 favorites]


I should explain that Milton is a super-wealthy and mostly white suburb (although our governor, who is black, lives there). Roxbury is the polar opposite of that.

The towns also border each other, and the first supposition that people had, given that he was found with no identification, was that somebody accidentally or purposefully beat him to death. Roxbury has a lot of gangs, drugs, and crime; I'm not sure it's racist to wonder whether a kid who was found apparently beaten to death and stripped of all ID the next town over might have been involved. And the suggestion about him having fallen from a plane came out a couple days later when they found out he was from North Carolina.
posted by Diablevert at 4:06 PM on December 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


It doesn't say so in this article, but it had been mentioned in previous write-ups that he probably froze to death in air and fell out of the wheel well when the landing gear dropped on the descent into Logan Airport. The first article in the paper described the body as mutilated, and indeed, as kuujjuarapik mentions, there is a high murder rate of young black males in Mattapan and Roxbury, which do border Milton. I don't see the connection to racism here either.
posted by Sal and Richard at 4:11 PM on December 10, 2010


i can't wrap my head around this ... WTF?!?!?!?
posted by liza at 4:21 PM on December 10, 2010


I should explain that Milton is a super-wealthy and mostly white suburb

Not really. I grew up there (ah, last vestiges of metafilter anonymity - gone!) and it's actually quite economically diverse. There are some very wealthy people, but also a significant working class population as well - and most residents are middle class. According to Wikipedia, the per capita income is $37,000, lower than the national average.

It is mostly white, though - 85%, according to that Wikipedia link.
posted by lunasol at 4:24 PM on December 10, 2010


Yes, they are clearly doing their jobs. How else would a person end up in the wheel well of a plane?

It seems to me he would have bypassed the TSA altogether and just wandered out to the ramps. Who is in charge of guarding the access to the ramps? Would it be the TSA or just airport security?

But yeah, it really does show how silly it is that we have to remove our shoes.

Poor kid.
posted by bondcliff at 4:49 PM on December 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


Per capita income is not a good measure of wealth. Take a look at the median family income of $107,261 and compare that to the national average of $46,326. It's definitely a wealthy community.
posted by Sal and Richard at 4:53 PM on December 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


[A few comments removed, let's not have an ironic "let's not have a TSA derail" derail, please.]
posted by cortex at 5:01 PM on December 10, 2010


authorities now believe he stowed away in the wheel well of an aircraft from Charlotte to Boston, and fell out as the airplane approached Logan airport.

I saw this episode of Law & Order. It's the baggage guy and his cousin.
posted by octobersurprise at 5:08 PM on December 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


pictures: wheel well on a 737, with ramper for size comparison and one more.

stowaways are anything but rare. it really does happen over and over again. what is rare is for this to happen in the united states. you'd usually see this in dirt-poor african and asian countries, where desperate people try to hide in the wheel-wells and either fall out, get crushed or freeze to death before the lack of oxygen even gets to them. it's a really bad choice for a hiding place.

I've heard stories of rampers finding dead kids frozen stiff in those places.
posted by krautland at 5:14 PM on December 10, 2010 [8 favorites]


I'm not sure it's racist to wonder whether a kid who was found apparently beaten to death and stripped of all ID the next town over might have been involved.

I believe that they found ID on the body right away. Or not ID, but a hall pass that made him identifiable pretty quickly. Within a very short amount of time, they knew where he was from and how recently he had been there. They reported fairly quickly that he wasn't from here and had no record. Also, without getting into a lot of detail, I have seen more than a few scenes involving traumatic deaths, criminal and not. A body that takes that kind of fall is going to be pretty uniquely damaged. In addition, the scene should have made it pretty quickly apparent that the fall had taken place right there, as opposed to a trauma occurring elsewhere and the body being dumped.

But I've probably chosen my words not super-well. Maybe it wasn't quasi-racist, but I guess I thought it was interesting how well it showed why profiling isn't a great idea. I can totally understand that they didn't figure "this kid must've fallen from the wheelwell of an airplane" from the getgo, but "Hey, this kid took a MIGHTY fall and landed here. Let's go shake up Roxbury!" seems also like a strange response.

Weird, sad case all around. I feel for the kid and his family.
posted by rollbiz at 6:00 PM on December 10, 2010


lunasol: Not sure when you were last in Milton, but in addition to what Sal and Richard said, one need only take a look around. Or a trip on Blue Hill Avenue between the two places. Milton is wealthy and white, and fabulously wealthy and white compared to Roxbury.

Trust me, whichever direction you are traveling it will be crystal clear to you within yards of the town like that you have left one of those communities and entered another.
posted by rollbiz at 6:04 PM on December 10, 2010


town like line.
posted by rollbiz at 6:05 PM on December 10, 2010


rollbiz: there's also some kind of weird secondary storyline where two cars were seen in the area, one traced to a college student. From the Boston.com article: "Last month, police recovered two cars that neighbors saw speeding away from the area the night Tisdale's body was found. One of the vehicles was linked to a Curry College student, who has retained an attorney, but news reports have suggested there is no connection with Tisdale's death.

Keating said blood and human tissue was found on the undercarriages of the vehicles, but there was no evidence that the drivers were responsible for Tisdale’s fatal injuries."

So I guess at first, it did look like it could've been a murder and who knew if it was gang-related at first. But did they hit the already-dead kid and keep going? The entire story is so beyond comprehension at this point.
posted by kpht at 6:06 PM on December 10, 2010


I can totally understand that they didn't figure "this kid must've fallen from the wheelwell of an airplane" from the getgo

What's the old saw, "If you hear hoofbeats, do you immediately think it's a zebra?"
posted by timsteil at 6:12 PM on December 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


The TSA has absolutely nothing to do with security outside the terminal building. That is handled by the airport police or the local police if the airport doesn't have their own force.

I design runways, taxiways, security fence and other airfield infrastructure. It would be trivial to sneak onto the airfield of almost any airport in America. Logan is one of the harder ones. At DFW people (drunk drivers) end up on the airfield by accident. Also, I have stood under the wheel wells of many parked aircraft. There is not a lot of extra space up there.
posted by Uncle Jimmy at 6:13 PM on December 10, 2010 [8 favorites]


Keating said blood and human tissue was found on the undercarriages of the vehicles

I missed that detail in the reporting. Like I said, I think that my thoughts, converted to text, underemphasized the "weird" and overemphasized or chose poor wording for the "quasi-racist".

It's something I tend to think about, because we do have some rather famous history with fingering the urban poor when it isn't warranted.
posted by rollbiz at 6:17 PM on December 10, 2010


What's the old saw, "If you hear hoofbeats, do you immediately think it's a zebra?"

Sure, but I already made my counterpont. "Hey, this kid took a MIGHTY fall and landed here. Let's go shake up Roxbury!"
posted by rollbiz at 6:21 PM on December 10, 2010


It's something I tend to think about, because we do have some rather famous history with fingering the urban poor when it isn't warranted.

No arguments there, for sure.
posted by kpht at 6:45 PM on December 10, 2010


Wait, doesn't everybody know that this is a Fringe-style coverup of some sort of alternative universe mixup or something?
posted by ejfox at 6:49 PM on December 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


I design runways, taxiways, security fence and other airfield infrastructure. It would be trivial to sneak onto the airfield of almost any airport in America. Logan is one of the harder ones. At DFW people (drunk drivers) end up on the airfield by accident.

Ah, yes, one day I received a call while working as a dispatcher for a major transportation company that one of our drivers was being investigated for having driven onto one of the runways at (I think) MKE. We had authorizations to drive out to meet private flights through Signature and other FBOs, but he'd apparently done something beyond that. I never did find out how that one turned out, unfortunately. I did remember thinking "how do these flaws in the system exist and why, years after 9/11, haven't they been fixed?"
posted by kpht at 6:51 PM on December 10, 2010


"how do these flaws in the system exist and why, years after 9/11, haven't they been fixed?"

Because the risk associated with them is so small that the benefit of resolving the issue isn't worth the money and resources required.
posted by mikelieman at 6:59 PM on December 10, 2010 [3 favorites]


"how do these flaws in the system exist and why, years after 9/11, haven't they been fixed?"

Because the risk associated with them is so small that the benefit of resolving the issue isn't worth the money and resources required.
posted by mikelieman at 6:59 PM on December 10 [1 favorite +] [!]

Really?
posted by yesster at 7:31 PM on December 10, 2010


the patdowns and scanners don't really provide fool proof security

When are they going to learn that there is no such thing as foolproof security?
posted by Sara C. at 7:33 PM on December 10, 2010


Not sure when you were last in Milton

Earlier this year I walked through town to the Blue Hills observatory and back, through Roxbury, Dorchester, Mattapan and Milton. It's hard to explain to someone that suddenly you cross an imaginary boundary drawn up by the Neponset River and within seconds you shuttle between nail salons, check-cashing emporiums and sketch Caribbean churches to wide-open green space, maicured suburban tract homes and equally sketch European churches. From one world to another in a matter of feet.

Also, no food/bathroom facilities between Mattapan Sq. and the Mass Audubon. WTF Milton? Don't like strangers wandering through?
posted by jsavimbi at 7:52 PM on December 10, 2010 [3 favorites]


Never miss an opportunity for some terrorism related whataboutery.

"..but this could have been a bomb," the mantra of the 21st century.


Well, it seems to me that if it's this easy to just hop a fence and tuck into a wheel well, avoiding the full-body scanners for paying passengers, a suicide bomber might see this as a very attractive move.
posted by Camofrog at 7:54 PM on December 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


Some local notes:

Keating, the DA, just got elected to Congress.

Some people in Milton oppose a proposed bike path along the Neponset River that would include a river crossing because they're worried criminals from Mattapan would use it as an invasion route into their town - and never mind that there are already three bridges and a trolley line between the two or that Milton seems to have more than an adequate supply of homegrown gun-toting thuglets.

Boston city councilors, meanwhile, are getting sick of Miltonites, who have to pay for trash pickup by the bag, driving their trash across the river and dumping it in adjacent Boston neighborhoods.
posted by adamg at 8:23 PM on December 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


Wait, doesn't everybody know that this is a Fringe-style coverup of some sort of alternative universe mixup or something?

Because if that were the case the evidence would point out he fell off a zeppelin berth, of course.
posted by Iosephus at 8:23 PM on December 10, 2010 [3 favorites]


rollbiz: I can totally understand that they didn't figure "this kid must've fallen from the wheelwell of an airplane" from the getgo, but "Hey, this kid took a MIGHTY fall and landed here. Let's go shake up Roxbury!" seems also like a strange response.

The evidence on the body probably just confused the hell out of them. I imagine there are other things that could mimic those kind of injuries. For example, if someone was hit by a large vehicle and someone stuck the body in a freezer for a while before dumping it.
posted by Mitrovarr at 11:28 PM on December 10, 2010


Yeah, exactly which small town cops are long-fall forensic specialists? I bet a horrible fall looks a lot like a messy murder under most circumstances, given terminal velocity and possible prefreezing and rigor of the body.
posted by felix at 12:09 AM on December 11, 2010


Wait just a second here: a month ago, they were saying that this was a slight possibility that they were looking into. Obviously, they're not necessarily going to release everything from the investigation, but there doesn't seem to be anything of substance here other than "well, he was on the flight path, and damned if we know what else it is."
posted by Dr.Enormous at 12:42 AM on December 11, 2010


I grew up in the same area of Charlotte as the victim, and even went to the same high school and had friends in that JROTC program. I totally recognize the desperate desire to escape the area for almost anywhere. And my childhood wasn't even that bad.
posted by hydropsyche at 4:54 AM on December 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Between this story and that of Zahra Baker - a 10 year old cancer survivor who was killed and dismembered, likely by her stepmother - it has been depressing as hell to read the news in Charlotte lately. Delvonte's dad originally took a lot of crap/blame in the press from family members when his son first went missing and in the few days after his body was found, but the guy seems genuinely distraught over his son's death. I can't imagine the guilt.
posted by Sweetie Darling at 5:35 AM on December 11, 2010


Ah, Milton -- birthplace of George W.H. Bush and Buckminster Fuller.

In 2007 and 2009, Money Magazine listed Milton 7th and 5th, respectively, on its annual list of the Best Places to Live' in the United States.*

I should explain that Milton is a super-wealthy and mostly white suburb (although our governor, who is black, lives there).

As a teenager, Deval Patrick went to Milton Academy -- also where T.S. Eliot, Robert F. Kennedy, Ted Kennedy, Elliot Richardson and James Taylor were schooled.
posted by ericb at 6:01 AM on December 11, 2010


FWIW the Massachussets Medical examiners office has had its Mass.%20governor%20fires%20medical%20examiner">problems. So I am not at all surprised by this. However given the known facts: A body with obvious crush injuries, and multiple lacerations, and grease on the clothing coupled with two mysterious cars leaving the scene in an otherwise quiet (white) neighborhood could leave one to assume that it was an automobile that did the damage. OTOH I said, as soon as I heard the details that he could have been a stowaway. The flight path of hundreds of daily flights go right over the spot where the body was found, and it is right about there, some X miles out that planes begin to lower their landing gear..
The landing patterns for the probable date ( Nov 22,23) can be viewed here
posted by Gungho at 6:24 AM on December 11, 2010


The flight path.
posted by ericb at 6:33 AM on December 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Today's Boston Globe lead front-page article: N.C. teen’s body probably fell from jet.
posted by ericb at 6:34 AM on December 11, 2010


This picture of the 737 wheel well another fine reminder of the miracle of flight.
posted by rhombus at 6:34 AM on December 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


BTW -- as mentioned in the Globe and elsewhere, in addition to finding his greased stained sneakers and shirt on the ground along the flight path they also found fingerprints and a handprint "in the left wheel well of a Boeing 737 commercial airliner that left Charlotte Douglas International Airport at 7 p.m. Nov. 15 and landed at Logan about two hours later."
posted by ericb at 6:40 AM on December 11, 2010


I used to drive through Milton into Roxbury to train and race in Franklin Park, and crossing over from Milton into Roxbury remains the starkest example I've ever seen of a palpable line drawn between race and class. It's as though an invisible electrified fence has been erected, dividing abject, treeless poverty from McMansions with manicured lawns and hundred year-old trees.

There was a sighting in Egg Harbor Township of what witnesses say appeared to be a person falling head-first from the sky, but no body was found and the search has been halted. I'm assuming the authorities investigated the possibility of a similar situation.
posted by stagewhisper at 8:38 AM on December 11, 2010


The security concerns raised by this story were old news five years ago and nothing has changed.
Although the X-ray and metal detector rigmarole is mandatory for pilots and flight attendants, many other airport workers, including those with regular access to aircraft -- to cabins, cockpits, galleys and freight compartments -- are exempt. That's correct. Uniformed pilots cannot carry butter knives onto an airplane, yet apron workers and contract ground support staff -- cargo loaders, baggage handlers, fuelers, cabin cleaners, caterers -- can, as a matter of routine, bypass TSA inspection entirely.

All workers with airside privileges are subject to fingerprinting, a 10-year criminal background investigation and crosschecking against terror watch lists. Additionally they are subject to random physical checks by TSA. But here's what one apron worker at New York's Kennedy airport recently told me:

"All I need is my Port Authority ID, which I swipe through a turnstile. The 'sterile area' door is not watched over by any hired security or by TSA. I have worked at JFK for more than three years now and I have yet to be randomly searched. Really the only TSA presence we notice is when the blue-shirts come down to the cafeteria to get food."
Several dead wheel-well stowaways have been discovered on flights to and from the US since 9/11. Every one highlighted the relatively light behind-the-scenes airport security, but there's been no move toward securing the planes in any comprehensive way. Maybe that makes sense; maybe background checks work better than body scanners. Certainly if a mechanic wants to make trouble, it's unlikely that any search or body scan will help.

Here's my imaginary future scenario: a member of an airliner cleaning crew is kidnapped, his ID is used by the kidnapper to plant a bomb on an airliner. Bomb is discovered (whether it detonates or not). TSA response: redouble background checks on ground personnel, require ground personnel to submit to some sort of expensive technological silver-bullet screening, like an (ineffective, easily fooled) fingerprint scanner that's built in the US by a company who's cozy with their congressional representatives.
posted by Western Infidels at 9:12 AM on December 11, 2010


I've been following this story since it broke, because I'm a local news junkie and know the area a bit, but what has really struck me, in terms of news itself, is that the suggestion of a wheel-well falling death appeared very early on in the comments section of the Boston Herald.

I read the comments section of the Boston Herald because I am an enormous glutton for punishment, apparently. I just have to see how in every single story about something terrible happening to an ethnic person and/or a woman the incident is invariably and rapidly determined to be that person's fault, together with the fault of Massachusetts liberal "hacks" and/or Obama. This was of course a leading theory set when Tisdale's body was discovered, but, to my surprise, that was where I first read the suggestion that he had fallen from an airplane, and it appeared to be something that the commenter had actually thought of, using brain cells. I'll never underestimate the Boston Herald comments section again . . . oh wait, yes I will, never mind.
posted by Countess Elena at 9:37 AM on December 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


there is a good discussion of the technicalities of this accident on airliners.net. I specifically recommend answer #8, which has more pictures.
posted by krautland at 11:27 AM on December 11, 2010


Yeah, exactly which small town cops are long-fall forensic specialists? I bet a horrible fall looks a lot like a messy murder under most circumstances, given terminal velocity and possible prefreezing and rigor of the body.

Certainly they are not, but as I said: As someone who has seen traumatic death up close and personal on a decent number of occasions, it should've been obvious that this was something sufficiently strange enough to warrant further investigation before the first thought of Roxbury knuckleheads ever came into the equation.

You're still at several thousand feet when your flight path crosses Milton, as I understand it. A person who falls several thousand feet to their death will show mountains of evidence that not only was that how they died, but that this specific place was where it happened. You cannot easily replicate the scene of a massive falling death. Having gathered up after a falling death, I feel at least minimally qualified to say that it presents very uniquely.

Add to that a potentially frozen body, at a time of year where something could stay outside all night and not freeze, and you have a situation that would have been very puzzling but that I'm still not sure should've led to Roxbury...
posted by rollbiz at 7:33 PM on December 11, 2010


rollbiz: the body cannot have been frozen. he had to face a lack of oxygen at that level, which prevented him from staying conscious, which prevented him from holding on once the wheels were extended but neither flight time nor altitude were sufficient to solidly freeze a human, even a child. you just pulled that out of your nose. also: you are mistaken in assuming this looked like a regular falling death. this most likely looked like an ejection, i.e. from a moving vehicle. do not forget the aircraft was in all likelihood traveling at speeds around 250kn @4000ft (people on pprune could probably do a better job at telling you when the gear is usually extended on a US Air 737) when he left the aircraft. consult the linked graphic further up in this thread illustrating the distances between where he and his shirt where found. this kid didn't just fall down, he impacted the ground traveling into a specific direction at considerable speed. any person could be forgiven for thinking of something other than an aircraft confronted with that picture.
posted by krautland at 11:11 PM on December 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


He was moving at 250 kt at 4000 feet, but drag would quickly slow him down. Once you reach teminal velocity I'm sure your forward speed will be negligible, i.e. you'll be falling straight down. Talk to any skydiver.
posted by phliar at 4:19 PM on December 12, 2010


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