jsulek@mercurynews.com

SANTA CLARA -- The father of the stowaway who survived a freezing flight to Hawaii in the wheel well of a Boeing 767 said Sunday that the 15-year-old "is a good kid who I love dearly," and plans to bring him home soon.

In a three-paragraph emailed statement, Abdulahi Abdi Yusuf, a Somali refugee who lives in Santa Clara and drives a cab, said that his family was "deeply concerned" when his son, Yahya Abdi, went missing last weekend. He said he was relieved to hear he was safe after landing last Sunday at the Maui airport and hopping out of the wheel well onto the tarmac.

The statement left many questions unanswered -- including a response to accusations by his birth mother and another relative that the teen was treated poorly or why the father apparently did not report that his son was missing.

Yusuf did say, however, that "our family was deeply concerned when my son went missing, and we were relieved to hear of his safety considering the circumstances of his trip." Echoing comments he made in a radio interview last week, Yusuf said his son was having trouble in school after moving here in 2006 from a refugee camp in Kenya.


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"My son, like many immigrant children, is struggling adjusting to life in this country," Yusuf said in the statement. "Our situation was aggravated by our displacement in Africa for many years after fleeing our home country of Somalia because of war conditions. As a result, my son was not able to receive any formal education before we immigrated to the United States."

Refugee camp

Yusuf's comments were sent through the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a civil rights group with a Santa Clara office that is helping the family navigate the situation and deal with the international media. TV trucks have been camped out for a week in front of the family's modest Santa Clara rental home, where all the drapes are drawn. CAIR also clarified Yusuf's last name, which had previously been reported as Abdi.

"The focus of the statement was to address some of the questions that people have raised about the dad and the son and how everyone feels and what's next," said Zahra Billoo, executive director of CAIR's Santa Clara office. "It was balanced with the family's desire to maintain a level of privacy as well."

Yahya remains hospitalized with breathing difficulties and is in the custody of Hawaii's Department of Human Services. Yahya told Hawaiian authorities at the Maui airport that he ran away from home after an argument with his father and stepmother. He said he wanted to find his birth mother, who lives in an Ethiopian refugee camp. When he hopped a barbed-wire fence at Mineta-San Jose International Airport either late April 19 or early April 20, he said he climbed into the wheel well of the closest plane, which happened to be Hawaii-bound. He fell asleep or blacked out and doesn't remember most of the 5.5 hour flight.

Miracle survival

Aviation experts say the teen must have been in a "hibernation" state to survive 38,000-foot altitudes and temperatures that dipped well below zero.

In an interview arranged by a relative in San Jose, Yahya's birth mother stepped forward last week, telling reporters in a call from the refugee camp that she wanted to reunite with her son, along with her two other children. She claimed that her ex-husband and his wife, who have five other children together, treated her children poorly and refused to allow her to communicate with them. Until recently, she said, her three children were told by their father that she had died in a rocket attack in Mogadishu.

When Yahya will be released and to whom is unclear. But Yusuf said he plans to fly to Hawaii to get Yahya and he is "excited to bring him back home to his family in California. We thank everybody for their concern and support and ask that people continue to respect our privacy during this incredibly difficult time."

Contact Julia Prodis Sulek at (408)278-3409 or follow her on twitter @juliasulek.