Old White Man Turns Into Young Asian Guy Midflight It's being described as an "unbelievable case of concealment." Using a silicone mask with wrinkled skin, a brown cap, wire-rimmed glasses and an old cardigan, a man boarded an Air Canada plane in Hong Kong looking like an elderly Caucasian. During the flight, he went to the washroom -- and emerged as a young Asian man in his 20s.
NPR logo Old White Man Turns Into Young Asian Guy Midflight

Old White Man Turns Into Young Asian Guy Midflight

Photos released by the CBSA show the young man who boarded an Air Canada flight in Hong Kong while elaborately disguised as an elderly male. AP/Canada Border Services Agency hide caption

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AP/Canada Border Services Agency

Photos released by the CBSA show the young man who boarded an Air Canada flight in Hong Kong while elaborately disguised as an elderly male.

AP/Canada Border Services Agency

It's being described as an "unbelievable case of concealment." Using a silicone mask with wrinkled skin, a brown cap, wire-rimmed glasses and an old cardigan, a man boarded an Air Canada plane in Hong Kong looking like an elderly Caucasian. During the flight, he went to the washroom -- and emerged as a young Asian man in his 20s.

Police met the plane in Vancouver, and the man immediately claimed refugee protection.

How he got on the plane is still a mystery. It was first believed he got through checkpoints using a frequent flyer card, but Air Canada now says that rumor is unfounded. An internal investigation is underway into how Singapore Airport Terminal Services -- which handles boarding gate passport verification at the Hong Kong airport -- let him slip through.

Photos released to the Associated Press from the Canadian Border Services Agency show the mask used by the man. He was seen at the start of the flight as an "elderly Caucasian male who appeared to have young-looking hands," according to an internal CBSA bulletin titled "Unbelievable Case of Concealment."

The disguise is much more elaborate than other imposter cases, where suspects simply tried to match the hairdo, clothing and height of the passport holder they're trying to imitate, Hong Kong Undersecretary for Security T.K. Lai said Saturday. "This is a brand-new method,'' he said.

According to the bulletin, the man performed a boarding pass swap with someone else. Speaking on condition of anonymity, a Canadian government official said a U.S. passport was also involved.

It seems to be an elaborate attempt at claiming refugee status, but the case is troubling to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, who said the tactic could be used by terrorists.

Security experts say the incident exposes a security weakness. John Babcock, a spokesman for Canada's Transport Minister, declined to release details but said airlines have the responsibility to verify the identity of all passengers who appear to be 18 years of age or older.

"That means air carriers are supposed to look at a passenger's entire face to determine if they appear to be over 18 and if so, compare their physical appearance with their travel documents,'' Babcock said.

Air Canada spokeswoman Angela Mah said outbound passengers in Hong Kong go through several identity checks, including passport control.

But a Hong Kong official told the AP the man likely escaped detection because he used his own travel documents and a genuine boarding pass when clearing immigration checkpoints in the southern Chinese city, then swapped travel papers with a collaborator in the transit lounge just before boarding the flight to Vancouver. The official asked not to be identified because she was not authorized to release the information.

As for the young man, he's in custody -- but Canadian officials say he will get his refugee hearing.