A man remains in a critical condition in hospital after surviving a 10-hour flight by clinging to the undercarriage of a British Airways flight from which another stowaway is feared to have plunged to his death.
The survivor was found unconscious in the undercarriage of the plane on Thursday morning having endured freezing temperatures over the 12,875km flight from Johannesburg to London.
The body of the dead man was discovered an hour later on the roof of a west London office building. It is not clear if he was killed in the fall; flight data reveals the plane would have been at an altitude of around 427m when it passed over the area.
Police say they believe they know the survivor’s identity and that he is 24 years old, but are awaiting confirmation. Scotland Yard said officers were looking into whether there was a connection between the survivor and the dead man, who was found under the busy flight path of planes coming into Heathrow over the Richmond area.
“At this time, there is no evidence to link the death to the discovery of a stowaway in the undercarriage of a plane at Heathrow airport; however, this is one line of enquiry into identifying the deceased and the circumstances of his death,” the Metropolitan police said.
There have been previous cases of stowaways plunging to their deaths in west London after smuggling themselves on to planes. They hide in the landing gear where they are exposed to the elements and endure sub-zero temperatures. Most are killed by the cold and lack of oxygen at high altitude.
In September 2012, José Matada, 26, died after falling from the undercarriage of a Heathrow-bound flight from Angola on to a street in Mortlake, west London. An inquest into his death heard that the Mozambican man was likely to have survived temperatures as low as -60C for most of the 12-hour flight. It was believed he was dead or nearly dead by the time he hit the ground.
David Learmount, an aviation expert and consulting editor of Flight International magazine, said the fact that one of the two men survived the long flight suggests he may have been able to get into the baggage hold section of the aircraft, which would raise serious security questions. “If these two were neither airline nor airport staff and somehow managed to get on a
“Then there’s the question of just where on the plane these two were. If a person was in the wheel well of a plane on an 11-hour flight there’s really very little chance of surviving. You are either going to be frozen to death by temperatures of -50C or you are going to die through lack of oxygen with the plane flying at 35,000ft.”
The victim fell on to the offices of the online marketplace Notonthehighstreet.com on a busy road. Charles Campbell, 59, a carpenter from Ealing in west London, left a bunch of yellow flowers at the scene, saying that he thought no one else would. “He’s got a family and it’s Father’s Day on Sunday. This is not first time this has happened,” he said.
Worshippers at a church across the road from where the dead man’s body was found would pray for him, the vicar, the Rev Neil Summers, said. “It’s very shocking when something like this happens on your doorstep. Coupled with all the migrants coming across the high seas into Europe from north Africa, it’s just another example of how desperate people are to reach this country to try to find a better life for themselves.”
Johannesburg’s OR Tambo international airport, where the flight originated, announced that security was being heightened and said the incident was the first of its nature there in 10 years. Colin Naidoo, a spokesman for Airports Company South Africa, which manages the airport, said authorities were still investigating how the stowaways made it past security. “It’s a security breach … we need to find out how and why this happened,” he said. “It’s very rare for this to happen in South Africa.” The British Airways flight departed for Heathrow at 7.45pm (1745 GMT) on Wednesday, Naidoo added.
A British Airways spokeswoman said: “We are working with the Metropolitan police and the authorities in Johannesburg to establish the facts surrounding this very rare case.” A postmortem examination of the dead man is scheduled to take place next week.