Desperate bid for better life

By Paul Peachey

Man who fell from plane probably perished long before he hit ground.

The Computer-generated image of an African man found on a London street. Photo / AP
The Computer-generated image of an African man found on a London street. Photo / AP

For more than three months he remained an unknown young African whose fatal decision to seek a better life in Europe ended with an 800m drop from the undercarriage of a jet preparing to land at Heathrow.

His body was found lying across the pavement in a wealthy suburban street early one Sunday morning with a few rudimentary possessions and a small amount of money in his pockets.

But detectives think they have found who he was after following a trail from a mobile phone SIM card found in his pocket, which they believe has led them to a former employer living in Switzerland.

The British-Swiss woman, who lived with her family in South Africa until 2010, said the description of the man was similar to one who worked for her as a housekeeper and gardener. Crucially, she gave police the unprompted detail that makes them believe they have the right man: a crudely inscribed tattoo on his upper left arm with the letters ZG. The letters, she explained, were the initials for his nickname.

The man in his 20s from Mozambique may have travelled across southern Africa in search of work before deciding to seek his fortune in Europe.

The man's broken body was discovered on September 9 in East Sheen, west of London. A witness heard a single thump at 7.42am which pointed to flight BA76 from Luanda, the capital of Angola.

The young man, dressed in casual clothes and trainers with pieces of tissue paper in his ears, may well have been dead before he fell from the plane. Temperatures are likely to have fallen to below -60C during the 6435km flight.

Under the cover of darkness, he apparently eluded security and the private guards that British Airways uses in "high-risk" countries to prevent intruders from getting on board its aircraft. BA said the pilots would have done a pre-flight check around the aircraft and a spokesman said there was no direct evidence that he had been on the BA flight.

Luanda's international airport highlights the inequalities of Angola's society. Helicopters line up on the tarmac to take oil executives straight to their offshore rigs, avoiding the slum communities built by the airport fence.

Police are contacting officials in Mozambique to try to get in touch with the dead man's family in a quest for formal identification.

But what makes a man so desperate that he will undertake such a journey?

Rafael Marques de Morais, a human rights campaigner based in Luanda, said: "The situation for the youth, especially those who cannot find jobs, is very tough. Luanda is a very expensive city with very few basic services to keep up with demand."

Flowers were left at the spot where he fell, along with a poem, The Man who fell to Earth. At least, soon, the man should have a name.

Stowaways on a wing and prayer

A United States expert on the health effects of stowing away on aircraft has identified 96 cases around the world where people have tried to hide in wheel housings since 1947.

More than 75 per cent of those cases have resulted in death. Most of those who have survived have been from short-haul flights, or when airliners have to fly at lower altitudes.

There have been remarkable cases of survival, including one man who flew in the undercarriage from Tahiti to Los Angeles in 2000 and recovered despite having a body temperature lower than was believed necessary for life.

"People don't survive travelling in undercarriages of aircraft," said Detective Sergeant Jeremy Allsup. "Stowaways from countries in Africa have all perished."

A cluster of cases has been reported near where the body of an African man was found in September under the flight path to Heathrow.

Allsup cited the case of a 21-year-old Pakistani found dead in the carpark of a store in Richmond in 2001. In August, the remains of another man were found in the landing gear of a plane after it landed at Heathrow from Cape Town.

The deaths also highlight flaws in security. Stowaways exploit open doors in airport terminals, break through perimeter fences and elude security checks at departure gates, says Philip Baum, the editor of Aviation Security International.

-Independent

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_a2 at 19 Sep 2014 17:06:24 Processing Time: 568ms