Dramatic story of SA stowaway who survived flight to UK told in documentary
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Pretoria – The story of a South Africa stowaway is the subject of a new Channel 4 documentary broadcast in the UK this week. The Man who Fell from the Sky tells the dramatic story of a stowaway who survived an 11-hour overnight flight from Joburg to London in the undercarriage of a British Airways Boeing 747-400 five years ago.
In the documentary, Themba Cabeka – who now goes by the name of Justin – speaks about his friend Carlito Vale, who died after falling as the plane descended to land at Heathrow.
He said his last words to his friend as the plane came in to land were “we made it” as they passed over roads and houses before he lost consciousness. He was found in the wheel bay with a shattered leg and spent months in hospital. Carlito was a Mozambican migrant who grew up in an orphanage. The two met in South Africa before they decided to seek a new life abroad.
The men prepared to stow away on the flight on the runway at OR Tambo International Airport by studying aircraft designs in a book, Justin told the British Media. Initially they were planning on Delta but opted for the shorter flight to London.
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He said they did not have inside help to gain access to the apron, but had jumped the fence and dressed in layers of clothing to protect themselves against icy temperatures. Themba clung to an electrical cable and it is believed this is what saved his life.
Later, he said he found out that Carlito had fallen 430m, landing on the roof of an office building. He died of his injuries. Themba spent months in hospital before starting a new life in Liverpool where he changed his name to Justin.
He said he and Carlito hatched their plan to leave South Africa without fully realising the dangers involved. It is rare to survive in the wheel bay as it is unpressurised and icy cold, with temperatures of -40°C or more.
The documentary follows filmmaker Richard Bentley’s quest to find Themba in England and Carlito’s family in Mozambique and tell of the lengths to which refugees will go. It is not clear when the documentary will be available to viewers in South Africa.