This incredulous story should go into the Guinness Book of Record. Daniel Ihekina, a young Nigerian teenager outsmarted airliners, passengers and security personnel in airport and had a free flight, hiding in the tyre compartment of the commercial aircraft from Benin to Lagos. From his picture he doesn’t look like a witch or wizard. He looks every inch human, wearing a simple, white cross necklace. One wonder if he should be punished or rewarded for his daring exploit.
The story in the Punch newspaper read:
A teenager beat airline and airport security at the Benin Airport and sneaked into the tyre compartment of a Lagos-bound Arik plane, where he flew safely to the Murtala Muhammed Airport, Lagos, on Saturday morning.
There was, however, pandemonium at the airside of the Lagos airport when passengers disembarking from the aircraft saw the teenager as he emerged from the undercarriage (aircraft tyre hole) to join fellow travellers.
The adolescent stowaway, identified as Daniel Ihekina, was immediately arrested by security officials at the airport.
The Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria and Arik Air confirmed the incident.
Although the General Manager, Corporate Communications, FAAN, Mr. Yakubu Dati, said full and urgent investigation had commenced into the mysterious circumstances that led to the huge breach in airport and airline security, the situation has continued to beat the imagination of aviation authorities in the country.
The situation, which has become a major source of worry among the authorities, has also led to a blame game between FAAN and Arik.
FAAN, in a statement on Saturday, said it held “Arik Air liable for the circumstances leading to the stowaway of a teenage boy on its aircraft at the Benin Airport.”
In a statement signed by Dati, FAAN, said, “Arik Air acted with impunity by not stopping the aircraft to check when the crew and ground personnel’s attention was drawn to an abnormality on the tarmac.”
According to the FAAN spokesman, the procedure for such infraction is for the crew to abort the flight and return to the apron for check-up.
He blamed the airline for the alleged impunity, warning that the airport authority would not tolerate such infraction from any operator.
He said, “This is arrant display of impunity. The aircraft should not have taxied further, but return to the apron until a proper check is carried out on all parts of the aircraft. FAAN will not tolerate such impunity henceforth from Arik or any airline. Any violation would be met with applicable sanctions.
Dati, however, said the teenager was already giving useful information to unravel this ‘misnomer.’
In a swift reaction, Arik, in a statement, blamed FAAN for the huge breach in security, noting that the incessant cases of security breaches at the nation’s airport had become a major source of concern to the airline.
The statement quoted Arik’s Managing Director, Mr. Chris Ndulue, as saying, “We are worried by the incessant security lapses at our airports. We are appealing to the management of FAAN to immediately address the problem.
“The management of Arik Air has expressed shock over the incident, wondering how the teenager beat the aviation security personnel at the Benin Airport to get to the runway.”
Arik said its pilot had reported to the control tower the presence of a strange boy in the bush about 200 – 300 metres at the end of runway before leaving the airport.
Ndulue said the control tower had told its pilot that they were sending security men to the place to arrest the boy.
Ndulue, however, said, “As the captain was making his final turn, preparatory for take-off, a cabin crew called his attention to the information by some of the passengers that they saw a boy running towards the airplane. The First Officer confirmed that they had observed it earlier and alerted the control tower which responded that they had sent the patrol team to arrest the boy. The captain again reported to the control tower and was informed that the situation was under control and that he had been cleared for take-off.
“On arrival at the domestic wing of MMA, Lagos, a teenage boy, who apparently had sneaked into the aircraft main wheel well jumped out and was arrested by Arik personnel and handed over to FAAN security.”
The Arik aircraft with registration number, 5N-MJG Flight 44, which left the Benin Airport around 9am for Lagos, was said to have on board top officials of the Edo State Government.
A passenger aboard the flight, who spoke with Sunday Punch on the telephone said, “We felt the signs in Benin when the plane was about leaving and as it was moving slowly, we heard a loud noise as if the tyre crushed somebody on the ground and we all started shouting. It means the boy was already inside that tyre compartment before we left. We left for Lagos, but when we landed at Lagos Airport, the boy came out from the tyre hole, everybody started shouting.
“But speaking seriously, this shows that we have a serious problem as regards securing our airports. This is a serious security breach. If that boy was carrying bomb, it means he would have succeeded in blowing up the plane. How can somebody be in an aircraft without being detected; we are in trouble in this country.”
Though no official at the Benin Airport volunteered comment on the issue, it was gathered that the teenager may have gained entrance into the airport from the Akenzua road axis, where perimeter fencing is non-existent at different points.
In 2010, a desperate young Nigerian, Emeka Okechukwu Okeke, who tried to smuggle himself to the United States, died in the tyre compartment of a Delta Airlines aircraft and was discovered on arrival in New York.
Okeke, sneaked into the place at Lagos airport.
In 2012, the dead body of a young Nigerian man was also discovered in the wheel well, the undercarriage compartment of a domestic airline, after it returned from South Africa.