Family Sues US Airways and CLT for Death of Son—A Wheel Well Stowaway!

A family is suing Charlotte Douglas International Airport and US Airways for the death of their teenage son, who was found dead in Boston. A preliminary investigation suggests he breached security at CLT then crawled into the wheel well of a US Airways flight heading to Boston.

Christopher Chestnut, the family's lawyer, stated, "The family wants to be sure that one, no other mother or no other father has to grieve like they're grieving and, moreover, that Americans who fly on commercial airliners are safe, especially those flying out of Charlotte."

Yeah, that's all well and good, but the teenager made the conscious choice to try to stowaway on an airplane. Any amount of research would have raveled that trying to stowaway in a wheel well is like signing your death warrant. But no amount of security can stop stupidity.

I don't mean to sound so flippant--I grieve with the family for their loss--and am pleased (though I wish it was under different circumstance) to point out that airport screening remains prone to loopholes.

Hopefully security camera footage will reveal how exactly the young man got to the plane. I can think of two ways. Perhaps he just slipped away during the boarding of a small aircraft on the tarmac--though I don't see how he could get to that point without a valid boarding pass.

Alternatively, he could have entered the private aviation area of CLT and found a way to the tarmac. I once flew through CLT on a Piper Cherokee and remember how easy it was to go from the private aviation area to the commercial aviation area. That was many years ago, though.

It's much too early to blame the TSA for this, but it would come as no surprise if the kid breached one of their checkpoints. US Airways may also be partially culpable if they allowed the kid onto the tarmac with an invalid boarding pass (maybe he photoshopped one...).

And on the matter of the wrongful death lawsuit--it should fail unless the kid was in some way mentally handicapped, which I suspect the family would have alleged by this point.


Nick January 19, 2011 at 02:51 pm

Having flown through CLT regularly (unfortunately there are times when US has been the most convenient. The curse of living in NC) it would be extremely easy to slip over depending on what gate the RJ and the Airbus were parked at, as the outdoor RJ gates are near some of the gates used for domestic Airbus aircraft.

FriendlySkies January 19, 2011 at 11:20 pm


I just can't believe they are suing the airport :td:

More details here:

AVS January 20, 2011 at 10:58 am

I love Americas current take care of me attitude. How in the hell is it the airline or airports fault that you decided to trespass on their property and were hurt in the process. If you don't want to fall out of an airplane buy a seat inside rather than stealing the fair by hiding in the wheel well.

@AVS and FriendlySkies: I couldn't agree more--but current tort law at least gives the family a fighting chance.

Grace January 20, 2011 at 03:53 pm

I live in Charlotte and the news constantly shows him in his JROTC uniform. Apparently we're supposed to feel sorry for him more since he was in the JROTC.
It's a horrible story and there must be some security loophole he exploited, but the truth remains that he was using something unintentionally. If I use my car to knock a tree over and my car dies I don't get to sue the auto manufacturer. He entered a wheel well...what did he expect?

Nick January 20, 2011 at 06:15 pm

The thing to remember is that many cases like this are not because the airline/airport has any real responsibility. The case is because of a lawyer getting to the family and saying that they could receive millions just by suing the "responsible" party.

I know my roommate who was in a minor accident a few weeks ago where there was only a minor spot of paint transfer was receiving mailings saying that he should sue for negligence and could get a lot of money, even though there was barely any damage, not even an identifiable dent.

FriendlySkies January 21, 2011 at 03:11 am

@Nick, you can blame "sue happy" American for that.. You dented my car? I'll see you in court!

@FriendlySkies: I think our litigious culture in America might change if we imposed the British-style loser pays all courts costs (and attorney's fees) approach.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.