Three objects fell from a plane taking off from Ecuador for New York, falling nearly 1,000 feet and landing with a thud on the runway.
As airport workers rushed to the site, fearing the flight had lost vital parts before leaving the city of Guayaquil, they instead found one dead teenager, one badly injured teenager and a suitcase with clothes and about $20 inside.
The injured teen died minutes later - and both of them appeared to have crawled into the plane's landing gear, said Gen. Marcelo Tobar, Guayaquil’s police chief. He speculated they were either forced out by the mechanics of the gears or had second thoughts and jumped in the hope they would survive, according to Ecuador-based El Comercio.
Authorities have since identified the dead stowaways using their partial names: Marco Vinicio PG, 17, and Luis Manuel Ch. P., 16. The two teeangers were cousins, authorities said.
The aircraft was forced to circle back with its 233 passengers nearly three hours after takeoff and land back at José Joaquín de Olmedo International Airport following the incident, LATAM Airlines Group spokesman David Harry told The Washington Post.
The men were not passengers, Harry confirmed in a statement, adding that the airline has been cooperating with investigative authorities.
Stowaways in the wheel well face extreme dangers, according to the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration. After the gears fold up and the plane climbs, the temperature can fall below zero as the air pressure plunges to dangerously low levels, sometimes inducing a hibernation-like state.