My question is exactly where a person could contort their body so as not to be mangled by the gear retraction system and very limited space. Some lived and died in the nose well and as I remember it, most aircraft at least provide half the nose wheel diameter (for several feet) to the nose strut (between strut and gear doors). The nose doors suddenly opening would explain why they fell to their death.

Presumably most people attempt to stow in the main gear and I just don't understand how?

WIKI lists approximately 150 known wheel stowaways. A cursory review shows about 20% percent lived through the ordeal. Most die of hypothermia, hypoxia, trauma from falling on the ground or in the air, but a few are crushed or mangled. Despite my knowledge as a pilot and A&P, I could not make an educated guess what a person would need to do as the gear retracted to keep from being crushed.

Medical issues are not part of this question and were covered by WIKI and reviewed in a related question that asked "How can a stowaway hide in the undercarriage?" on SE. No precise aircraft volumetric space capability was given or the "aerobatics" (I could not resist) needed as the gear retracted.

I am particularly impressed that stowaways survived DC-3, DC-8, and most surprising is the B737; these are all aircraft I have worked on and can not imagine how it is done. No one listed attempted B757 but there is a somewhat spacious 12-18in in front of the retracted main gear for cables, fuel lines and valves that could possibly allow a human space.

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Mid-60s alternative: bbc.com/news/magazine-31700049 :D $\endgroup$
    – user14897
    Commented Apr 3, 2018 at 11:27
  • $\begingroup$ That's funny. I had never heard about that. How many stamps would it take to send me to Australia? $\endgroup$
    – jwzumwalt
    Commented Apr 3, 2018 at 11:38
  • $\begingroup$ Well, considering that at least the DC-3 is unpressurized, at least oxygen supply should be less of a concern than on modern jets. Its service ceiling of 5,000 m might be problematic, but not necessarily lethal. $\endgroup$
    – user
    Commented Apr 3, 2018 at 12:18
  • $\begingroup$ But the DC-3 (and Beech 18) gear folds back like a scissor (two struts and crossbar) directly behind the firewall (the tire is only about 30in dia) - not anything I want to be holding on to... it retract/extends VERY slow so at least you aren't likely to fall out. $\endgroup$
    – jwzumwalt
    Commented Apr 3, 2018 at 12:40
  • $\begingroup$ @MichaelKjörling Airliner cargo holds of today are generally inside the pressure vessel. Living things are transported inside them regularly (and they usually survive.) Even if they didn't transport living things, who would want their baggage frozen at -40 C when it arrived? But, of course, the primary reason is just that it's easiest to design the aircraft fuselage itself to be the pressure vessel. $\endgroup$
    – reirab
    Commented Apr 3, 2018 at 20:16

1 Answer 1


For the 737, I think this rather sad photo provides one answer:

enter image description here


The body of a stowaway was found in a Kenya Airways flight from Kinshasa in the DRC on Sunday.
The body was found after the plane landed at the JKIA, preliminary reports indicating the person froze to death.

And, as you can see in this photo, the ledge there (on the left forward side of the main wheel well) is indeed just wide enough for a slim person to contort themselves into:

enter image description here


But, as you can see at the end of this video, there certainly isn't a lot of room for the stowaway's legs.

  • 16
    $\begingroup$ Wow, this photo really drills home how mechanically complex aircraft actually are. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 3, 2018 at 12:42
  • $\begingroup$ @BradleyUffner and how fragile. Imagine anything getting in there with some velocity, or the tyre bursting when retracted... $\endgroup$
    – PlasmaHH
    Commented Apr 3, 2018 at 19:36

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