4,000 mile journey ends at a London cemetery: Jet stowaway 'probably still alive' when he fell from undercarriage as it approached Heathrow

Bruising and injuries indicated there was some blood flowing around his body even if he was unconscious, says pathologist

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The Independent Online

At plot 86 is the final resting place of a young African stowaway whose desperation for a better life in Europe ended in death after falling from the undercarriage of a passenger jet.

The funeral of Jose Matada was attended by six people – none of whom knew him – before he was buried without a headstone in the Muslim section of a west London cemetery. “We had no clue whatsoever who this person was and where he came from,” said funeral director Abdul Rahman. “But as Muslims, it was our duty.”

The brief ten-minute prayer service took place months after Mr Matada was found dead on a suburban street below the final approach into Heathrow after a perilous 4,000-mile journey from Angola. Police had identified him but were forced to admit defeat in their attempts to trace his family in his native Mozambique.

An inquest heard today that Mr Matada was probably unconscious as he fell 2,500-feet when the landing-gear doors opened during the final descent into London in September last year. Police believe that he breached the perimeter fence of Luanda’s airport in Angola and clambered into the undercarriage under the cover of darkness before the plane took off. The temperature was likely to have dropped to -60 Celsuis during the flight and he was wearing only casual clothes with tissue paper in his ears.

Even so, the healthy young man may well have been, just, alive when he fell to his death just three minutes before British Airways flight 76 landed at Heathrow Airport on 9 September last year, his 26th birthday.

Bruising and injuries on his body indicated that there was some blood flowing around his body even if he was unconscious, said pathologist Dr Robert Chapman, who has worked on two similar cases from people falling from flights into Heathrow.

A US expert on the health effects of stowaways has identified 96 cases around the world where people have tried to hide in the wheel housing since 1947. More than 75 per cent of those died.

“He would have been unconscious with just a little bit of activity from his heart,” Dr Chapman told The Independent. “He wouldn’t have known anything about it.”

The Independent revealed in December how Mr Matada’s identity was uncovered after police followed the trail from a mobile phone SIM card found in his pocket to a former employer now living in Switzerland.

The British-Swiss woman told police that Mr Matada had worked for her as a housekeeper and gardener in South Africa until 2010. The former employer described a crudely inscribed and distinctive ZG tattoo on his left arm. The letters were the initials of his nickname, according to the woman.

Mr Matada had texted her from Africa to tell of his intention to travel to Europe for work and to ask her help. Detective Sergeant Jeremy Allsup, who investigated the case, said that the last text message exchange between the dead man and the woman was on 6 September, three days before he was found dead below the flight path on a street in East Sheen.

What happened after 2010 when his employer left the country remains unclear, but coins and other possessions in his pocket suggest that he took a route northwards into Botswana and Zambia before crossing the border into Angola.

Little more was known about him other than he was a recent convert to Islam, prompting the imam of Hounslow Mosque to lead his funeral prayers.

A spokesman for the Mozambique High Commission said it would consider paying for a permanent memorial to the man at Twickenham cemetery to link him to his homeland.

Coroner Dr Sean Cummings, who said that Mr Matada died at “the moment of impact or shortly before”, recorded a verdict of accidental death.