In The News – Teen Stowaway Lucky to Be Alive
San Jose, Calif.—After climbing into the wheel well of a Hawaii-bound airplane, 15-year-old Yahya Abdi likely survived by entering a hibernation-like state. The teenager, who lives with his father and stepmother in California, reportedly wanted to visit his mother in his homeland of Somalia.
When the plane landed in Maui, Yahya was weak, confused, and hungry. Experts doubted his story until security cameras showed him at both airports.
The teenager endured subzero temperatures and oxygen-deprivation as the five-hour flight reached an altitude of 38,000 feet. Most wheel-well stowaways don’t survive, but experts say Yahya must have entered “deep hypoxia,” where bodily functions slow way down.
FBI Special Agent Tom Simon called Yahya “a runaway kid with a bad idea.” The escape wasn’t well-planned, Simon added, saying the teenager just “ran for the nearest plane.”
Yahya’s father said his son was having difficulties at school because he hadn’t received education before coming to America. He described Yahya as “a very quiet person” who “was always talking about going back to Africa.”
According to one report, Yahya’s father had told his kids their mother died in a rocket attack. Two years ago, Yahya discovered that wasn’t true, and he’s been trying to find his mom ever since.
Yahya’s mother said she’s been trying to immigrate to the United States. “If I could give a message to my son I would say, I am still alive and I will come one day,” she said. “Please stay calm and do not do anything stupid.”
Authorities don’t plan to charge Yahya with a crime. But airport officials are examining their security procedures, trying to discover how the teenager managed to get into the airplane unnoticed.
A pilot who marveled at this “amazing story of survival” noted, “I wouldn’t give this kid an award. I’d send him to bed without supper.”
Sources: npr.org, cnn.com, dailymail.co.uk
* * *
Discussion Questions for Student Small Groups
What was your reaction to this story? When you first heard about it, did you believe it really could’ve happened? Why or why not?
What, if anything, do you think should happen to Yahya? As a parent, how would you welcome back a child who was so eager to get away?
What do you think would make someone desperate enough to risk his or her life like this? When is desperation a positive or productive force? When does it become unproductive or even dangerous?
Think of a time when you’ve felt especially desperate: What types of thoughts went through your mind? What actions did you take or consider taking, and how did that turn out? Does desperation make you want to be alone or to surround yourself with other people? Explain.
When teenagers face difficulties, what type of reaction from parents is best? Do you prefer when your parents try to help solve your problems? Or do you like to have space to figure out stuff on your own? Explain.
Why do teenagers often assume that running away will solve their problems? What situations might make it tempting for someone to flee their current situation? Why does running away only make problems more complicated?
If a friend confided that he or she was going to run away, what would you say or do? How can you be a refuge for people who are feeling desperate or discouraged?
When parents are going through tough times, how much should they share with their kids, and why? Should parents ever keep things from kids to protect them, or does that only make things worse in the long run? Explain.
When your home life gets turbulent, how does it affect the rest of your life? Where do you turn when you’re having problems or conflicts with your parents? How can you honor your parents even when you disagree with them?
Scripture links: Jonah 1:1-3; Psalm 139:7-12; Mark 4:22; Luke 15:11-20; Philippians 4:19; and Colossians 3:20-21.