SALT LAKE CITY — A 16-year-old boy faces potential federal charges after he was found hiding in the wheel well of an airplane early Friday at the Salt Lake City International Airport.
The series of events began about 10:20 p.m. Thursday when an airport police officer made a routine traffic stop on Wright Brothers Drive near the International Center, said Salt Lake Airport Police Chief Craig Vargo.
Two 16-year boys were in the vehicle. Based on their demeanor, the officer asked the teens to step out of the car, Vargo said.
"Seemed like something more going on," he said.
The passenger got out. But just as he did, the driver took off.
Police surrounded the area and found the vehicle — which investigators learned had been stolen an hour earlier — on Wright Brothers Drive. But they could not locate the driver after several hours of searching.
"That case was pretty much believed to be done, pending further investigation of trying to find the other driver. Later on this morning, about 4:30 a.m., we got a call that a maintenance hangar worker had found a juvenile in the wheel well area of an aircraft as he was doing a morning inspection," Vargo said.
The worker found the teen in a wheel well of a Skywest regional plane, he said. At that point, the boy was compliant and didn't try to run as the worker called police.
Both teens, whom police learned had recently run away from a treatment center, were booked into Salt Lake Juvenile Detention for investigation of a stolen vehicle. The teen found in the wheel well could potentially face additional federal charges as the FBI is now involved in the case.
After the teen was found, Vargo said an explosives K-9 was used to check the area and the plane as a precaution and all maintenance workers were asked to check their equipment. Nothing out of the ordinary was found, the chief said.
As part of their investigation, Vargo said police will try to figure out where the boy was able to get onto airport property and how he made it to the hangar.
The maintenance hangar is off 1200 North and a good distance from the terminals, Vargo said.
"The area (where he was found) is well within the airfield. So right now, that's what we're trying to find out is where did he breach and exactly how close he was to that area," the chief said.4 comments on this story
The area west of the runway has a lot of open fields and the perimeter is a barbed wire fence, Vargo said. There are security cameras, which were being reviewed Friday, and officers try to patrol the area as much as they can. But the chief said the police department also relies a lot on all of the airport employees to say something if they see something, which in this case they did.
Vargo said people getting into secured areas of the airport is uncommon but has happened a handful of times over the years.