Stowaway with Russian ID flew from Denmark to LAX without passport or ticket, court document says

A Russian-speaking stowaway managed to fly from Denmark to Los Angeles without a passport, visa or plane ticket last month, according to a criminal complaint filed Monday.

Sergey Vladimirovich Ochigava arrived at Los Angeles International Airport at 1 p.m. Nov. 4, the complaint said. But at the Customs and Border Protection checkpoint, officers discovered he wasn’t listed as a passenger on Scandinavian Airlines Flight SK 931 from Copenhagen or any other flight.

“When questioned, Ochigava gave false and misleading information about his travel to the United States, including initially telling CBP that he left his passport on the airplane,” the affidavit said.

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Passengers at Los Angeles International Airport on Aug. 31.Mario Tama / Getty Images

The suspect said he was confused, hadn’t slept for three days and couldn’t remember how he boarded a plane without a ticket, boarding pass or passport, according to the complaint.

The complaint, filed in U.S. District Court for Central California by FBI Special Agent Caroline A. Walling, said Ochigava committed the offense of being a stowaway on an aircraft, a crime that carries a potential jail sentence of up to five years.

When he was questioned by CBP officers, his bag was searched and found to contain Russian ID cards and an Israeli ID card but no passport, authorities said.

Officers found a partial picture of a passport on the suspect’s phone, showing his name, date of birth and passport number, but not his passport photograph, the complaint said. It did not say whether he was a Russian or an Israeli citizen or a joint national.

Flight crew noticed Ochigava walking around the plane and changing his seat, the complaint said.  “In addition, he asked for two meals during each meal service, and at one point attempted to eat the chocolate that belonged to members of the cabin crew,” it said.

The crew didn’t ask to see his boarding pass but noted that the seat he at first took was listed as unoccupied, authorities said. The flight crew did head counts for their individual sections as normal, but, the criminal complaint said, that was just to make sure the plane was balanced for takeoff and landing — they didn’t tally numbers across the whole flight.

Some crew members noticed that Ochigava was trying to talk to people around him, “but most of the passengers ignored him,” the complaint said.

Multiple searches couldn’t find him in the CBP database, which includes a list of everyone who is booked on a flight to the U.S., authorities said. A CBP officer said they had never before had a passenger make it to the border without being listed in the CBP system.

When he was interviewed by the FBI with a Russian interpreter, Ochigava said he was confused and “did not understand what was going on,” the complaint said. He said he might have a plane ticket to the U.S. but wasn’t sure and couldn’t remember how he boarded the plane in Copenhagen or how he got through airport security without a passport, a boarding pass or a ticket.

He said he had a Ph.D. in economics and marketing and had previously worked as an economist in Russia, authorities said.

His phone contained a Maps app screenshot showing a hostel in Kiel, a city in northern Germany, authorities said. A warrant has been granted to seize and search the black iPhone SE.

It is exceptionally rare for stowaways to make it to the U.S., and some have done so by clinging to a plane’s landing gear in freezing conditions. In 2021 a 26-year-old man from Guatemala was found in a landing gear compartment at Miami International Airport.

Last year, a 22-year-old man survived an 11-hour flight from Nairobi, Kenya, to Amsterdam, also by hiding in the landing gear compartment.