What began as a survival story of a stowaway teenager has quickly evolved into a debate about the safety of our nation's airports. A 15-year-old boy traveled from California to Hawaii in the wheel well of Hawaii Airlines Flight 45 on Sunday, raising security issues that could affect millions of airline passengers.
Many of the major airports are surrounded by cameras and large fences that are about 6-feet high, reports CBS News correspondent Jeff Pegues, but if a teenager can breach the security of an international airport, what's to stop anyone else?
Surveillance video at the San Jose International Airport reviewed by security officials reveals that the stowaway boy was inside the airport perimeter for at least six hours before Flight 45 took off for Maui.
"He may very well have scaled a section of our fence line, under cover of darkness," said Rosemary Barnes, spokeswoman of San Jose International Airport. "He remained undetected as he traveled from that fence line onto our ramp."
"Something broke down here," CBS News national transportation safety expert Mark Rosenker said. "Maybe we need to be spending more time looking at the outside of our airports and the perimeters of those airports, given the fact that we've seen a successful breach."
Airport perimeter breaches are far from rare. In 2012 a Philadelphia driver crashed through a gate onto an active runway, and a similar incident occurred that year at Sky Harbor International Airport. Last Christmas a man climbed a fence at the same airport in Phoenix and ran across the tarmac. In addition, a Congressional report revealed that during the decade immediately following 9/11, the nation's airports investigated almost 1,400 perimeter breaches.
"Each of these airports have their own geographical features that are unique and have to be looked at to make sure that the breaches cannot be done," Rosenker said.
The Transportation Security Administration has spent a reported $80 billion on aviation security since it was established after 9/11, but none of that money has gone to upgrade the security of airport perimeters. Perimeter security is the responsibility of local not federal authorities.
U.S. Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., is calling for a review of recent breaches to see if the TSA's priorities should be re-evaluated. Charges are not expected in the San Jose breach and the teenager will soon be reunited with his family.