Sunday, June 16, 2013

70. Flight Beyond All Hope. Part 2. Dude's Originals.

Carlos arrived at the rear port side landing gear precisely at the same moment the crew got the control tower clearance for takeoff.  The huge wheels began to roll. He felt the blast of the big jet engines hanging from the giant wings just a few feet away to his left. He ran between two rear wheels and grabbed a protrusion on the wheel strut and scrambled up. 


The wheels started to roll faster, gathering speed, only centimeters away from his dangling feet. A few seconds later, they finally found the foothold they were desperately searching for.  He hauled himself up grabbing the hydraulic pipes that ran down the strut. He felt the pipe bend under his weight. He shifted his weight on to the now diagonal metal bar and grabbed for the top of the wheel strut flap, which was now hanging open, and climbed into the wheel bay.

First of all Carlos, there is no guarantee that you won’t be  crushed to death being pinned by the hydraulically operated retracting landing gear in that cramped place which is designed to accommodate only the landing gear.

Carlos watched the tarmac rushing under him at alarming speed. The black rubber burn marks on the runway together with the rushing row of runway lights and markings made blurred patterns at high speed. The undercarriage banged, creaked, shuddered and groaned below him. The roar of the jet engines sounded incredibly loud in the confines of the wheel bay. Suddenly the creaking, shuddering and groaning ceased as the giant wheels lifted off the runway with hiss of hydraulics as the suspension was freed from weight of the aircraft.  He watched white pedestrian crossing like markings at the threshold of the runway dropping below. The Scenery which was zooming out rapidly filled the view. The runway, the airport buildings, perimeter fence the tree tops the highway, the fields, …. What a view!

Dude, they say, depending on the type of aircraft and the landing gear set selected and also the build of the stowaway, sufficient space would be available for a tight squeeze. For example, on an old DC-8 the right landing gear compartment would have enough space to accommodate a stowaway. But if he was unfortunate enough to select the left landing gear compartment, he would be in for surprise when the landing gear retracts, because hydraulic fluid reservoirs and other fittings take up most of the free space.  It would then be too late to abort mission as the giant retracting landing gear would trap him and crush him before he realizes that there isn’t enough space for him, landing gear and wheel strut and everything.  Anyway the compartment doors would close beneath with finality and the aircraft would be climbing higher.

This is an animation of how it roughly works. This diagram shows a single wheel to simplify the mechanics. The 777 has multiple wheels . Image from Wikipedia.

And then, he heard the hiss of the hydraulics and the hum of a giant motor which surprisingly muffled the roar of the jet engines. The wheel bay cover opened downwards to make way for the wheels that started retracting. The wheel strut bent inwards, with the diagonal arms telescoping in. The giant wheels rushed toward him menacingly, blocking the breathtaking view and threatening to crush anything in its way to pulp, if he didn’t watch out.

The huge wheels which were still spinning, narrowly missed Carlos’ head because he pushed himself sideways using the onrushing landing gear strut for leverage. The wheel bay suddenly became even more cramped and darker giving Carlos a feeling of claustrophobia. As soon as the landing gear came to a rest in its womb, the wheel bay flaps started to close on them shutting out the fading lights from the outside world and completing the nightmare.

If you managed to survive that, dude, then,the temperature dropping by each foot the airplane climbs, will work against you.

To make the matters worse, as the aircraft will gradually climb to cruise altitude, at about 18,000 ft, as the oxygen level thins out the hypoxia will slowly start setting in. As a result, you will feel fatigue, nausea and a splitting headache. Then  you’ll be struggling to breathe, and in the worst case scenario, end up in a coma or even death. It would be a colorful death ‘cos, you’ll turn blue most probably, ha ha. Well, it’s not a joke, though I tried to make it sound like one. Okay, it's a bad joke.

I know you did science stream at school. So, you know what I mean.

Suddenly Carlos felt that the rubber tire was burning his face. He hadn’t realized that an aircraft tire can get so hot during the takeoff run.  He moved his face as far away as the cramped enclosure allowed him.

Above 20,000ft, you will also be at the risk of being exposed to nitrogen gas embolism and Decompression Sickness anyway. That is why the cabin of the aircraft is pressurized.

At 22,000ft, you will feel lightheaded and weak and will be shuddering and struggling to keep conscious as eyesight and hearing will be impaired as your blood oxygen level will drop further.

Above 33,000ft (10,065m), the lungs require artificial pressure to function normally. Do I sound like a goddamn manual or a textbook?

  Those stowaways whose bodies are not mangled by the retracting landing gear or killed by these extreme conditions will almost certainly be unconscious by the time the compartment doors re-open a few thousand feet above ground, causing them to plunge to their deaths.

Carlos wriggled his feet because he felt they were trapped. Luckily, he could free them when he tried to pull them out one foot at a time. He moved around to find the most comfortable and natural, possible posture and in a few minutes settled down for one, turning a bit. 

Carlos groped for the seat belt and found its buckle. He held the buckle with his left hand while his right was groping for a possible anchorage to pass the belt around. Finding two levers, one huge and the other smaller next to each other, he chose the latter and proceeded to work on the buckle to take as much slack on the belt to pass it around himself and the lever.   With a sigh of relief, he finally clicked the buckle home. “Now, at least, I wouldn’t fall off the wheel bay into a lake or a forest, as henryblogwalker had said,” he thought.

I don’t mean to sound very pessimistic, but these are the facts I found as a result of my search just to make you realize what you have in mind is just stupid.

As the ambient temperature drops as so will the PP O2 (Partial Pressure of Oxygen) causing a blackout. Buildup of acid in body fluids due to these extreme conditions is not rare, which can cause coma or death.

So being alive at the cruising altitude of say 39,000ft is a miracle against all these odds.

So don’t be a moron, Just give up.

The noise from the giant jet engines sounded incredibly louder in the confines of the landing gear bay. He checked if his earplugs were still in place. Of course, they were.  The rubber wheels were still radiating enough heat to make him sweat in all the layers of clothing. And the steel levers were still hot perhaps from the hot hydraulic fluids in them. He felt like a loaf of bread in an oven.

Carlos swallowed hard several times to ease the stabbing pain he felt in his ears. The jet seemed to be climbing steeply and steadily into its cruising altitude. The whine of the jet engines gave him a headache. It was beginning to get colder.

At the same time, hypothermia is likely to be brought on, with temperatures dropping as low as -63˚C. The Hypothermia will get in the way of normal metabolism as your core temperature is dropped causing mental confusion, even if you are still conscious. And you will start to shiver uncontrollably which would be made worse if you are not wearing proper warm clothing.

It was growing colder and colder. Carlos started to wriggle his feet and slap his cheeks with his gloved hands. On top of that, he was feeling light headed. Henryblogwalker was right. His breath was becoming shallower and shallower.  He suddenly remembered his friend Juan who was suffering from chronic asthma. He used to breathe like this sometimes until he had a puff from his inhaler. 

The heat from the tire was comforting now, though it was diminishing fast. He found a new source of heat from the steel tubular arm next to him, which was still warm from the hot hydraulic fluid inside them.

Frostbite will be one of your worst enemies at these high altitudes.  Some stowaways were found frozen.

Dude, when I was surfing the net, I saw Cuban refugee Victor Alvarez Molina who arrived in Montreal Canada, hiding in the wheel well of a DC10, miraculously survived the 4 hour journey in -40˚C, thanks to a faulty pipe in the wheel compartment which leaked warm air for him to survive, in addition to providing  him a handle grip to hang on for dear life when the landing gear lowered beneath him for landing. 

It was a lucky break, nothing else. You can’t expect the same miracle twice. So don’t do it, dude. Anyway, if you try this ignoring all I said, God bless you, you stupid idiot!

Take care,


Carlos was floating between wakefulness and unconsciousness. The breathing was so hard that his chest was aching as if he had a ton of bricks on it.  He felt as if he was being strangled. He struggled for breath. Surprisingly the roar of the jets seemed to be muted from time to time. He thought it was funny that there were thousands of gallons of sloshing jet fuel inside the wing, just next to him only a few feet away from the roaring furnace fire of the giant jet engines hanging from the same wing. Only a few feet away… Only… a...  few…

Carlos lay unconscious in the wheel bay. The air temperature and oxygen levels  around dropped  further.

The Boeing 777 leveled out at 37,000 feet and settled to cruise at a steady speed of 0.84 Mach. 

The flight attendants served dinner to the flight deck crew and the passengers.  The plane shuddered a little as the plane flew through some mild turbulence. Flight attendants were wearing their professional reassuring smiles.

The Boeing 777 cruised through the silent night skies without incident, its body glowing silver in the moonlight.

Will Carlos make it?
You will find out in the final episode. Please Click Here.



  1. Hey Dude, U have stopped it at the climax. Grrrr...! Sadly no option for us other than keep waiting till season finale released. Carlols is really lucky to find himself the exact correct place in that small space designed only to accommodate landing gear.
    Next biggest challenge i see here is to regain his consciousness before landing. Otherwise there's a high possibility to throw himself out of the plane during landing or get caught himself if he survives the landing. We'll see what's gonna happen...
    Btw, how the hell u captured all those photos and stuff for this story ah? Did u visit a hanger to get 'em? My best guess is u took those photos during ur flight back to SL in Dec.

    1. even i was surprised how he did it ? is it allow to go under the plane and take such photos ?

    2. I wanted to stop at the climax and looks like it has worked, yeah!!!

      I'm very much inspired by the interest you guys show in this story. Thanks very much.

      Well, talking about the photographs, first of all I love photography and I have this infatuation about machines. While I enjoy nature photography like you guys I love capturing machines at various angles.

      I love bikes, automobiles and aircraft. Oddly enough there isn't much of a love affair between me and the water transport, haha.

      I have photographed bikes automobiles and aircraft at various angles. I love to take some shots when a jet takes off and land being on the air side of an airport, unfortunately this is not allowed.

      I have taken all these photos while waiting to board the aircraft or in some cases while walking to board it. I have taken photos while the ground crew was asking me not to stop and keep walking. You know I have been airborne a little more than fifty times by now. So plenty of photographs.

      In this case I sometimes crop the photos I have taken to get the desired effect. This landing gear bogie and the last photo was cropped like that. It worked because the resolution was good enough.

      I'd love it, if someone is there who would get special permission for me to go to the air side of an airport with a camera and have a field day.

    3. then you should read this blog Dude...

      Perhaps he might able to help to make your dream a reality..

    4. There's an Air force museum at Rathmalana. Air Force Museum Probably you might have already visited it. If not its worth adding it to that "To Do" list next time u r visiting SL. Actually I haven't got a chance to visit it yet, but my brother (who is a kind of machine loving guy like u) visited it with his friends & showed me the photos of different kinds of aircrafts.

    5. Thank you Senna. I'll visit that blog/

      Thotiya, Thank you. We visited that museum several years ago accidentally. I means while we were passing that place looking for something we saw the board. We took a lot of photographs also. I love that place, but those are really museum pieces. I was thinking about blogging it.

      What I want is to photograph the modern ones while taking off and touching down, like Boeing series including 747 and Airbus series.

    6. Yep Senna and HB
      I think I will be able to assist you (HB) to materialize your dream. Just drop me a mail by clicking the email button on the top of my blog, apeahasa. Send your contact details Pl. Will try my max to assist you.

    7. Ishara, thanks for the prompt reply. I'm so thrilled to hear that. "m coming to Sri Lanka in November so there's enough tome. So glad to get to know, you Ishara. My nickname is Dude.

  2. may be because of the heat of the tire, Carlos may survive..!! that might help to keep his super class cabin warm ! did he carry any oxygen Dude ? didn't u give him such suggestion ?

    so far he is lucky. so i feel that he will some how make it.....

    Though there was no sufficient space, your writing skill gave an opportunity to share that limited space with carols for readers as well.

    eagerly awaiting the final episode.

    1. You think so? Okay let's see.

      To be 100% honest, I didn't think about an oxygen canister. If I remembered, yes, I would have included it, yet I opt to leave certain things for your imagination. Still, it's an extremely bright idea of yours. Good thinking! Well done!

      Thank you very much, Senna.

    2. I dont think its safe to carry an oxygen canister in such a burning high temp closed place

  3. Awww I was there with Carlos :)
    While reading this adventurous and curious story, I was thinking how difficult Carlos's life should have been to make him take such a dangerous decision. He has selected death to life. I eagerly hope he survives.
    As usual, this is great Dude, curious to see the next !

    1. If you felt you were there with him, my effort is rewarded.

      Well, I left certain things for the reader's imagination. Why exactly Carlos is doing it and which South/Central American country he is from is purposely omitted for that reason.

      And thank you very much Manavika, for reading and commenting.

  4. This is really awesome Henry. Words fails me whenever I try to write something about it. But anyway the term words fail me itself is quite adequate to express my true feelings. Isn't it now?

    During the middle of those glorious 70's " Navayugaya " published by the Lake House was virtually an Encyclopedia albeit costing something in the range of 15 cents if my memory serves me right. By the grace of God it hasn't let me down yet..I mean my memory heh, heh,

    In one of the issues there was a cover story on two Dutch boys about 13 -14 years who tried to get to U.S.A. by hiding in a wheel bay of an air craft. Only one of them survived and even that’s after spending more than 3 days in a coma. And he lost some of his toes due to severe frost bite & resultant gangrene.

    All of navayugaya cover illustrations were done by one Mr. Gauthamadasa. What an artist he was. I still remember the life like illustrations he did every week one after the other. For this particular article about stowaways he did an outstanding illustration showing the air craft wheels just lifting off the runaway with the two boys running behind with their hands outstretched trying to grab something . I think they couldn't just climb on to the wheels as they envisaged due to the unexpected presence of a security guard or something.

    Thanks again Henry…I enjoyed your writing immensely.

    Now please let Carlos get wherever he is heading safely, OK?

    1. WOW! Thank you very much Ravi. This says it all.

      Yeah, I am a huge නවයුගය fan. I think it was 25cts and the 50 and finally 90cts. And I can check it out as I have my collection back at home. Can you remember during that era there was such a shortage of printing ink and paper that they had to crop the pages and print the cover page with limited number of colors? And sometimes these dudes printed some pages in yellow ink and no one could read them. :))

      Your memory is good. Usually the සත්‍ය කතා was a translation of 'Drama in Real Life' from RD, so it could be the same story we are talking about that inspired me as I said in episode one. But I remember them as Spanish names not Dutch names. Were the Dutch so desperate?

      I adore Mr Gauthamadhasa. And just like Janaka Rathnayaka's and Daya Rajapaksha's signatures I used to forge Gauthamadhasa's signature too. I mean for fun. He had some awesome talent, dude.

      But he did only the cover art, Inside art was done by various other artists kike Anura (Wijewardhana), Gunapala Hemachandhra and a few others, if I remember right.

      Thank you Ravi. The honored to have a comment like this from you. :-h

    2. Yeah, I think they ( the two boys ) did it as a dare, just for the hell of it. I remember from where they got up into the wheel bay as Amsterdam airport. May be I am mistaken. It was so long ago :)

      Do you remember Henry, Percy Jayamanne wrote an excellent column about anecdotes from the lives of famous people. ජීවිතේ මී විතෙන්... That was one of my favorites.

      Then the චිත්‍රකතාව by Bandhula Harishchandra. First it was සින්බෑඩ්, then හේලෝ and සද්දන්ත.

      L.C. Jayasinghe, an alias of Henry Tennekoon of සමාජ සමයං Fame wrote a really hilarious piece called අද එතැන් සිට.

      From නවයුගය I learnt all about Thor Heyerdahl's kontiki expedition , Roald Amundsen's explorations to south & north poles, Marco Polo & the silk road, Inca & Maya civilizations...Oh what a fascinating journey it was sitting on the floor of our verandah with නවයුගය spread out before me, there I was wide eyed re-living every moment with those great men....

      Take care of your නවයුගය collection Henry, It's priceless I am sure …:)

  5. keep up the good work.. I bet Carlos will run like a rat in a hole once he landed.. :)

    1. Okay, Let's see.

      And thanks for the links you sent Alex.

  6. Good gracious Dude! With the knowledge you have gathered regarding this subject, I think you should be able to write a book on Wheel well stowaway!!!

    Eagerly looking forward for a super exciting part 3 :)

    1. Really? Chams, this is not only the knowledge gathered. This is just letting my weird imagination run wild, too. As I said now I lost track of where the imagination ends and the facts begin.

  7. Dear HB
    I read the first part from your Sinhala translation and due to enthusiasm you made I automatically diverted to the Part 2 English version. I was a nice one and I cant really believe that people are taking such risks. Anyway awaiting to read the P3.

    1. Ishara, Thanks for the comment. I hope you weren't disappointed by reading the original English version.

      The things desperate people do are unimaginable.

      Read the final episode also in English and then in Sinhala.

  8. Wooow Dude, I don't know whether to first tell you how excellent the story was or to get mad that we have to wait for the rest..... :D :D :D

    This is definitely the best piece of writing I have ever read.... feels like we are there too....and the writing style is unique....

    I am so sad that Carlos was able to get into the wheel bay....I was hoping he would be caught....

    I really hope he would survive....what is he going to eat [ as usual my biggest concern he he he]

    post the rest soon Dude, the suspense is too much...we can pass out before Carlos!!!

    1. You seem to be my biggest fan now.

      Even I feel this is the landmark post I wrote so far, because none of the other posts took that much time nor effort.

      Thank you very much for all the support you give me with your encouraging remarks and comments.

      I'm working on it.

  9. Oh !now all the fans seem to be in the climax of their curiosity knowing the next episode, so please don't keep them in suspense. :)

    1. Yes, I was wondering where to break the episodes to get the maximum cliff hanger suspense and looks like I haven't done so bad. :D

      Thanks very much for the proof reading and all the other support you give me.

  10. wow dude, you are such a good writer ! Read the part 1 in English, then sinhala then again this , cause I couldn't wait to read what'll happen next. you know I am a claustrophobic too, and reading this gave me goose bumps cause the picture you created in my mind was so strong. The flow of the story is excellent, Creativeness at it's best dude ! the style that you've written this is way too different than any other novel I've read so far. thank you for doing all this, and for translations in Sinhalese... I've heard stories about this situation before but never ever imagined how dangerous it was. I wonder why no one spotted this chap, when he ran for the Tyre thingy. keep it up dude !!!

    1. Tyre thingy! y-)

      Thank you very much, Anith kona for all the nice things you said. :). I feel my effort is rewarded.

      Well, the funny thing about security is still there are errors in it either human or mechanical. Or else the security doesn't have the same intensity everywhere, specially in the South American country Carlos is from. And again we still hear the best security systems fail every now and then, even in the most developed countries, too, don't we?

  11. Dude you are really living in your passion. Amazing these writings. I should have come here before.

  12. Thank you very much Sachith. And I'm soooo happy to see a comment from you.

    What? I thought you read my blog. :-O Okay, Did you visit my other blog මගේ ඩෙනිම?

    Please keep your own blog rolling. Love to read what you have to share with us. :)

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. I was, since we met last... but it has become really a fantasy for me now ... I mean the blogging world


  13. this is getting more and more interesting while you telling us this story i feel like you are touching some of the engineering facts as well.i have seen this almost in every post...

    i think carlos will survive because he was well prepared.he may face some side effects and near death experience but he will survive...

    to the next...

    1. Yeah, I do have some obsession about such things, anyways.

      Okay, let's see if you are correct.

      Thanks again.



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