A suspected stowaway who survived an 8,000-mile flight during which air temperatures plunged to minus 50C – a journey that apparently ended in the death of another man who fell from the aircraft – must have managed to shelter inside, an aviation expert has said.
The body of the second stowaway, believed to have plunged from one of the aircraft’s wheel wells as it came in to land at London Heathrow, was found on a roof a few miles from the airport.
The two men are thought to have hidden themselves on a British Airways flight from Johannesburg to London. Yet police refused last night even to say if the body had suffered injuries consistent with a fall, or where in the aircraft the survivor was discovered.
David Learmount, a consulting editor of Flight International magazine, said one of the men must have managed to get into the aircraft’s hold to have survived the freezing temperatures and lack of oxygen at 35,000 feet.
“If a person was in the wheel well of a plane on an 11-hour flight, there’s really very little chance of surviving,” he said.
“You are either going to be frozen to death by temperatures of minus 50C or you are going to die through lack of oxygen with the plane flying at 35,000ft.
“We just don’t know as yet who these people were. It could be that the one who has survived was a baggage handler who got into the hold. If someone is to survive as a stowaway then they have to get into an area of the plane that is pressurised and warm.”
Mr Learmount said the case raised serious questions about the level of security at Johannesburg, particularly if neither of the men was an airport worker authorised to go into restricted airside areas.
The alarm was raised at 8.30am on Thursday when the survivor, believed to be in his 20s, was discovered shortly after the flight had landed.
An hour later a body was found on the roof of the business Not On The High Street in Richmond, under the aircraft’s flight path.
Reverend Neil Summers, from the St John the Divine of Richmond church, opposite where the body was found, said he would lead prayers for the men.
“In one sense it’s not totally surprising as it’s happened before,” he said. “It’s very shocking when it’s so close to you. We are going to say prayers for the people concerned tonight.”
A Scotland Yard spokeswoman said last night that police were still not sure how the body got on the roof. Dropping several hundred feet from an aircraft coming in to land at Heathrow was, she said, just “one line of inquiry”.
The body was found a short distance from where, in September 2012, the body of another stowaway, Jose Matada from Mozambique, was discovered.
Mr Matada, 26, had hidden himself in the wheel unit of an aircraft flying from Angola to London. He faced temperatures of -60C during the flight and was either dead or close to death by the time he plunged to the ground at Mortlake.
Stowaways who manage to evade airport security to hide in aircraft wheel wells generally lose consciousness at 22,000 feet because of the lack of oxygen and are either dead or still unconscious when the wheels are lowered.Reuse content