Flying has the strictest security mechanisms of all methods of transportation. Anyone who flies internationally knows you must have a passport and boarding pass. However, a strange incident involving a man flying to another country without either document occurred in November. We will look deeper into the incident and how it could have happened without anyone noticing.
On November 4, a Russian man named Sergey Vladimirovich Ochigava took a Scandinavian Airlines flight from Copenhagen Airport (CPH) to Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). This route operates six times weekly using an Airbus A330 aircraft and flight numbers SK 931 and SK 932. Once the flight landed at approximately 1:00 p.m. local time, Ochigava proceeded to a Customs and Border Protection (CBP) checkpoint to pass through immigration.
However, Ochigava could not provide documents to verify his identity to the customs authorities. After initially claiming that he left his passport on the plane, he later said he did not remember getting on the flight. Ochigava did not have a passport, visa, or boarding pass for the authorities to approve his entry into the US. His only forms of identification were ID cards from Israel and Russia, which is insufficient for entering countries as an international visitor. All of this information about the passenger was revealed through an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) on December 11.
The CBP authorities later discovered that Ochigava was not listed as a passenger on the flight since he was not in the agency's internal database. As a result, the FBI charged Ochigava with being a stowaway on an aircraft. A stowaway is someone who manages to get onboard an aircraft without proper authorization. For an airplane, it could be in the landing gear wells or the cargo or electronics compartments. Ochigava is currently in federal custody and is expected to appear in a Los Angeles court on December 26.
Interestingly, Ochigava managed to board the flight as a regular passenger and sit in a seat like everyone else. However, the cabin crew told the FBI that Ochigava exhibited strange behavior during the flight. He repeatedly changed seats and walked around the aircraft aimlessly. Ochigava also requested two meals during each meal service and attempted to eat the cabin crew's chocolate.
There is the possibility that Ochigava was mentally unstable when he flew from Copenhagen to Los Angeles. He informed the FBI that he had not slept for three days and could not remember how he had traveled from Denmark to the US. Ochigava appears to be successful since he has a Ph.D. in economics and worked as an economist in Russia for many years. Therefore, there is a possibility that Ochigava has undiagnosed mental health issues or was under the influence of some type of substance. This is important to think about as the ongoing mental health crisis affects people working in the aviation industry.
Some blame can be placed on the cabin crew since they should have noticed an unauthorized passenger before the flight departed. According to the FBI, crew members conduct head counts for each section before a flight takes off, but those are to ensure that the aircraft has an evenly distributed weight for landing and takeoff. It was not until after the flight arrived in Los Angeles that the crew noticed an extra passenger was not counted. The FBI is currently looking further into how the SAS crew unknowingly allowed Ochigava on the flight, and the next steps of the investigation will be revealed on December 26.
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