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Probe after worker left in cargo hold

Associated Press logo Associated Press 5/01/2017

Federal authorities and airline officials are investigating the odd flight of a baggage handler who wound up in the cargo hold of a plane for over 450km.

The Federal Aviation Administration said it hoped to talk to the man to help determine whether the man's cargo-loading company followed proper procedures to make sure that all employees were out of the cargo hold before the doors were closed and the plane took off.

The man was found unharmed after the United Express flight from Charlotte, North Carolina, landed on Sunday at Dulles International Airport outside Washington DC.

The cargo hold was temperature-controlled and pressurised, United Airlines spokeswoman Erin Benson said. The Embraer jet was in the air for about 80 minutes and reached an altitude of over 8,000 metres, according to the FlightAware tracking service.

The plane was operated for United by Mesa Airlines, but the bag handler works for a Mesa contractor, G2 Secure Staff, Benson said.

G2, which is based in Irving, Texas, issued a statement saying that its employee travelled in the cargo hold "on accident" and that it is co-operating with investigations into the incident.

Phoenix-based Mesa did not immediately respond to phone and email messages.

Rob Yingling, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, said that medics met the plane when it arrived on Sunday afternoon but determined the baggage handler did not need treatment.

Dulles Airport police conducted a brief investigation. Since the man had proper identification as a Charlotte airport employee and was not charged with a crime, he was released, Yingling said.

The Washington Post identified the bag handler as Reginald Gaskin, and said it reached him by telephone. "I thank God. He was with me," he told the newspaper, then said a lawyer advised him not to say more.

Reached by The Associated Press at his Charlotte home on Tuesday, Gaskin declined comment.

This isn't the first time an airport worker has wound up flying in a cargo hold. In 2015, an Alaska Airlines plane made an emergency landing in Seattle after pilots and passengers heard someone banging on the cargo hold beneath them after takeoff.

The man said he had fallen asleep while loading bags - also in a pressurised part of the cargo hold. Menzies Aviation, the contractor who employed the man, said he had broken their rules by napping in the plane.

There have also been stowaways. In 2014, a teenage boy flew in the wheel well of a Hawaiian Airlines jet from California to Hawaii, surviving thin air and freezing temperatures. The boy said he hopped a fence at the airport in San Jose to reach the plane. He was spotted wandering the airfield after the plane landed.

Safety experts say such incidents should prompt airlines to improve security procedures. They say crews should not close the cargo doors until everyone is accounted for.

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