An Air Force C-130J Super Hercules sits on the flight line at Ramstein Air Base, Germany. The body of an unidentified boy was discovered July 27 in the wheel well of C-130 assigend to the 86th Airlift Wing. (Airman Kendra Alba / Air Force)
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Investigators are looking into whether the boy found dead Sunday in a C-130J wheel well was seen earlier trying to reach aircraft at an airfield in Bamako, Mali, said Eberhard Bayer, a spokesman for the German prosecutor’s office.
The boy, whose age is estimated between 13 and 14 years old, was found dead after the plane returned from missions in Africa. An autopsy determined that he died of asphyxiation from lack of oxygen at high altitudes.
A day or two before the incident, a boy was turned away from the airfield in Bamako for apparently trying to get near the aircraft. Bayer said. It is unclear whether that boy was trying to sneak onto a plane. German authorities are distributing photos of the boy found dead at Ramstein to determine whether he is the same one seen earlier at Bamako.
Investigators believe that the boy found dead in Ramstein snuck into the plane in Bamako because he had a bottled beverage from there, Bayer said.
A spokesman for U.S. Air Forces in Europe said she had no information about a boy being turned away from the airfield before Sunday’s mission. The plane in which the body was discovered made stops after leaving Mali, meaning the boy would have been in the wheel well during takeoffs and landings in Africa.
“I think it raised security flags for everybody involved,” Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh told reporters on Wednesday. “U.S. Africa Command has command and control and responsibility for that airplane while it’s in the [area of responsibility]. U.S. European Command obviously has the crew, wants to make sure the crews are trained properly in how to do this.”
While investigators have collected the young man’s fingerprints and are using other methods to identify him, it will be difficult to determine who he is, a spokesman for German police told Military Times.
German investigators can collect the young man’s DNA, but they have no one else’s with which to compare it, the spokesman said. Also, while police believe the young man stowed away in Mali, he may not have been from that area.