Airline stowaway freezes to death

Western Cape

Cape Town - A mystery man who scaled the Cape Town International Airport fence on Wednesday night was found dead inside the landing gear of a British Airways plane at Heathrow the next morning. Doctors believe he must have frozen to death within two hours.

The man, who has not yet been named, had scaled a security fence at Cape Town International Airport on Wednesday night, causing a commotion when a security guard spotted him and tried to chase him down.

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File photo: A mystery man who scaled the Cape Town International Airport fence was found dead inside the landing gear of a British Airways plane at Heathrow the next morning.

He was last seen running in the direction of the runway, where several planes were waiting to take off. Twelve hours later, when a British Airways plane landed in London, officials made a grisly discovery – they found a dead stowaway in the landing gear.

Aviation experts say the man would have been exposed to temperatures between -40 and -50ºC while the Boeing 747 plane soared at 30 000 feet. “He would have had enough room to move if he sat in the right place,” a Cape Town aviation expert who asked not to be named said on Thursday. “He would have been freezing cold and there would have been almost no oxygen for him to breathe.”

“At that altitude he would have been exposed to extremely cold temperatures and very low oxygen levels,” said Zameer Brey, provincial chairman of the South African Medical Association.

“Those conditions are not compatible with life. I can’t imagine he would have been able to withstand those conditions for more than an hour or two.”

Airports Company of South Africa spokesperson Deidre Davids said the man managed to evade airport security because of the busy activity on the airfield and the darkness.

“On an airfield there is a massive and live operation taking place. It covers a large area and aircraft are landing and departing continuously, not to mention that there are vehicles, buses, aircraft equipment and all sorts of other activity taking place, adding to this complex operation,” she said.

Davids said a security officer ran to apprehend the man but he fled in the direction of a waiting plane and soon disappeared.

“For safety purposes [the officer] did not go any closer to the aircraft and lost sight of the man,” she added.

She said when they received reports from London of a stowaway they knew it must have been the same man.

British Airways spokesman Stephen Forbes confirmed that a man had been found in the landing gear of one of the airline’s Boeing 747s.

“We are liaising with the South African authorities and Cape Town airport after a body was found in the landing gear bay of one of our aircraft,” he said. “They are investigating how this incident took place.”

London Metro Police spokesman Alan Crockford said the man had not yet been identified.

“Police were called at 6.25am on Thursday to an incoming flight at Heathrow Airport following the discovery of a man’s body. Officers and London Ambulance Services attended.

The man was pronounced dead at 7.07am. The death is being treated as non-suspicious,” he said.

* In 2007 the frozen body of 17-year-old Samuel Benjamin was found stowed away in the landing gear bay of a British Airways plane on a flight from Cape Town to Los Angeles.

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Cadet News Agency

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