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Couple sues North Carolina airport over son's death

The parents of a North Carolina teenager who fell to his death after stowing away in the wheel well of a passenger jet are suing the Charlotte Douglass International Airport over the incident. The wrongful death claim, which also names the City of Charlotte and two airlines as co-defendants, argues that the airport's lack of proper security and safety regulations allowed the 16-year-old victim to easily sneak onto the runway and enter the plane's wheel well.

According to the lawsuit, the defendants acted negligently in failing "to follow applicable guidelines, procedures, and inspect checkpoints to ensure children, like decedent, could not gain access to restricted areas, including, but limited to, the tarmac, airplanes and their wheel wells." The plaintiffs also argue that the defendants failed to properly inform the victim of the danger of entering a restricted area and attempting to stow away on a plane. They are seeking over $10,000 in damages, which would compensate them for funeral expenses, as well as the "extreme pain and suffering" their son experienced in the moments leading up to his death.

Police discovered the teenager's body almost 750 miles from North Carolina, using a hall pass in his pocket to confirm his identity. An autopsy was unable to identify the boy due to the severely damaged state of his body, but authorities later linked him to the plane after finding a hand print in the grease of the wheel well that matched the body. Police concluded that the victim had managed to sneak onto restricted property at Charlotte Douglass, the U.S.'s 11-busiest airport, and hid himself in the plane's wheel well prior to takeoff.

Following the accident, a review of the airport found that its on-site police force was unable to maintain an acceptable level of security and monitor the runway given its small size. The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department responded by absorbing the airport police in efforts to increase its security presence.

Source: Courthouse News Service, "Parents Blame Airport for Stowaway's Death," Dan McCue, Nov. 16, 2012

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