Chinese Stowaways Fly to U.S. on Korean Plane

      April 16, 2013 11:31

      Three Chinese women were caught attempting to enter the U.S. illegally by hiding in a Korean airliner. According to the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport on Monday, the three Chinese women in their 20s and 30s got on a B747-400 flight from Incheon to Hong Kong on March 27 but could not be accounted for after boarding.

      They surfaced again on March 28 at Los Angeles International Airport.

      "They arrived at LAX but were caught by customs since they did not have U.S. visas and immediately applied for asylum," a ministry official said. "U.S. Customs and Border Protection authorities are currently looking into how they were able to get to the U.S."

      The official said the women hid in a compartment above the cabin crew's rest area at the tail end of the plane. It is uncertain when they got into it and how long they stayed there. The official added the women apparently came to Korea from Vladivostok.

      The plane left Incheon on March 27 and flew to Hong Kong's Chek Lap Kok airport and back. It then flew to Narita Airport in Japan and back to Incheon, leaving for LAX on March 28.

      If the women had been hiding in the aircraft all along, that means they were hunkered down in the tight space for more than 30 hours. The aircraft was cleaned and inspected at each stop but the stowaways were undetected.

      Large passenger planes such as the B747-400 are equipped with rest areas for cabin crew known as "bunkers" with beds where they can rest on long flights. The ministry suspects the women snuck into the bunker and gained access to the compartment above it by an emergency passageway.

      "The bunkers on B747-400s have no locks and passengers sometimes mistake them for restrooms, but it is virtually impossible to enter the compartment above them," said an airline spokesman. "Either someone familiar with the aircraft acted as a broker or the women planned their illegal entry attempt to the U.S. very carefully."

      The ministry conducted emergency searches on April 1 and 9 on bunkers on all Korean carriers with such facilities and ordered officials to step up security inspections.

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