This article was produced in collaboration with Court Watch, an independent outlet that unearths overlooked court records.
Last month, a Russian/Israeli dual national named Sergey Ochigava arrived at LAX airport in Los Angeles on a Scandinavian Airlines flight from Copenhagen with no passport and no record of him having been on the plane. According to court records, entities confused about how he arrived in the United States include the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI, Scandinavian Airlines, LAX, and Ochigava himself.
Ochigava was charged with being a stowaway on an aircraft, but an affidavit about the event written by FBI agent Caroline Walling is incredibly fascinating reading because no one seems to have any idea what happened.
“When OCHIGAVA presented himself for entry at the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) checkpoint at LAX, CBP officers discovered that OCHIGAVA was not a listed passenger on the flight manifest for SK 931, or any other incoming international flight. OCHIGAVA was unable to produce a passport or a visa to enter the United States,” the affidavit reads.
Ochigava was not a stowaway in the traditional sense because he seemingly interacted with flight crew, ate two meals on the plane, spoke to other passengers on the flight, and, at one point “attempted to eat the chocolate that belonged to members of the cabin crew.” The affidavit states that “most” of the crew noticed him on the plane, and said he was sitting in a few different seats, but that nothing else seemed amiss.
When he arrived at immigration, he allegedly told CBP that he left his passport on the plane, but no passport turned up. A search of his bags found “Russian identification cards and an Israeli identification card,” as well as “a partial photograph of a passport.” There was no record of Ochigava in any CBP system, according to the affidavit: “The CBP officer had never encountered a situation where a passenger in the CBP inspection area was not in the CBP system.”
When interviewed by two FBI agents, Ochigava said he was a Russian economist who was not aware where he was: “Ochigava claimed he had not been sleeping for three days and did not understand what was going on. Ochigava stated he might have had a plane ticket to come to the United States, but he was not sure. Ochigava did not remember how he got on the plane in Copenhagen. Ochigava also would not explain how or when he got to Copenhagen or what he was doing there. When asked how he got through security in Copenhagen, Ochigava claimed he did not remember how he went through security without a ticket.”
The FBI then searched the camera roll of Ochigava’s iPhone, which showed a photo of “television screens displaying flight information for flights flying all over the world” taken at Copenhagen’s CPH airport. “Other photographs consisted of screen grabs from the ‘Maps’ app showing a hostel in Kiel, Germany, and street maps from an unknown foreign city.”
The affidavit does not provide any more information about what happened. LAX airport declined to comment. Ochigava could not be reached by 404 Media for comment. A spokesperson for Scandinavian Airlines told me in an email: “I can confirm there has been an incident where a passenger has been involved in the below scenario departing from Copehnagen with an SAS flight. The matter is being handled by relevant authorities both in US and Denmark and we cannot comment any further. It’s the authorities who will have to give further details.”
The FBI did not respond to a request for comment. If you know anything more about how this happened please get in touch.