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Man Survives Flight Hidden In Wheel Well Of Jet

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VIENNA — A 20-year-old Romanian looking for work hid in the wheel well of a jet in Vienna and survived a 90-minute flight to London, police said Wednesday.

The man told British authorities that he crawled "under the wire" of the Vienna airport's perimeter fence and climbed into the undercarriage of a private Boeing 747 parked near a construction site for a new terminal, Schwechat police chief Leo Lauber said.

Lauber said the jet belonged to a high-ranking sheik from the United Arab Emirates and took off from the Austrian capital Sunday night without any passengers on board.

After landing at London's Heathrow Airport, Lauber said the man – who claimed he was looking for a job – apparently fell out of the gear's compartment and was apprehended by police.

A spokesman for London's Metropolitan Police said the man was arrested and remains in custody at Heathrow. No information on his medical condition was released, but authorities said he was in a cell, not a medical facility.

Britain has restrictions on the number of Romanians working in the U.K., even though both nations are in the European Union.

Austria's daily Kurier newspaper reported, without citing a source, that the stowaway may have survived because the aircraft flew "well below 10,000 meters (32,808 feet)" due to bad weather.

Vienna airport spokesman Paul Kleemann said an investigation into the incident was under way. The man's ability to enter a reportedly secure airport area undetected raises all sorts of security issues.

The Romanian embassy in London and the Romanian Foreign Ministry in Bucharest declined to identify the man.

Other airport stowaways have not made it to their destinations alive.

"Due to specific circumstances of this flight, he is lucky to have survived, because survival in these cases in quite rare," said Sidney Dekker, a professor of flight safety at the School of Aviation at Sweden's Lund University. "But on another level, this incident also illustrates the absurdities of security checks."

In February, a man's body was found inside the landing gear compartment of a Delta Air Lines plane after it landed in Tokyo from New York. The body had no visible injuries except frostbite and may have died of hypothermia, authorities said.

In 2007, another man was found dead in the nose gear wheel well of a United Airlines flight that arrived in San Francisco from Shanghai.

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Associated Press Writers Jennifer Quinn in London, Slobodan Lekic in Brussels and Alison Mutler in Bucharest, Romania, contributed to this report.