South African stowaway who survived a terrifying 5,600-mile flight to UK clinging to a jet gets asylum

Francis Akhalbey January 04, 2021
Themba Cabeka survived an 11-hour, 5,639-mile flight from South Africa to London by hiding in the jumbo jet’s undercarriage -- Photo Credit: Channel 4

A 30-year-old stowaway who traveled from South Africa to London with his friend in an eleven-hour, 5,639-mile flight by hiding in the jumbo jet’s undercarriage in freezing -60C temperatures has been granted asylum.

According to Mail Online, Themba Cabeka and his friend – who passed away after falling from the British Airways flight minutes before landing at London’s Heathrow Airport – embarked on the dangerous journey in 2015. Though he was unknown, his identity finally came to light after it was announced he’ll be featured in a documentary. Titled The Man Who Fell From The Sky, the documentary will be premiered on Channel 4 on Monday, December, 4.

Cabeka, who has since adopted the British name Justin, was discovered alive on the ground by Heathrow staff after falling from the plane as it landed. He sustained a number of injuries and was in a coma for six months. Shortly after the takeoff in Johannesburg on June 18, 2015, Cabeka passed out due to lack of oxygen and freezing minus temperatures in the plane’s undercarriage.

“When the plane was flying, I could see the ground, I could see the cars, I could see small people. After a little time, I passed out through lack of oxygen. The last thing I remember just after the plane took off was Carlito [his deceased friend] saying to me: ‘Yeah, we’ve made it,’” he recalled.

Cabeka, who said he resided in a campsite near the Johannesburg Airport, revealed he met his then-homeless friend Carlito at a nightclub in the city. After the two established a relationship, he allowed him to move in with him. While staying together, they hatched the plan to get on the plane by scrutinizing engineering books – including one about aeroplanes – Carlito had in his possession. The two decided to attempt getting on the plane on the night of June 18, 2015.

“The airport was guarded so we jumped over the fence when it was dark,” Cabeka said, according to Mail Online. “We dressed in black because we have to dress like no one sees us – two T-shirts, three jackets, two jeans.” Though the news outlet said it was unknown if their intention was to get on the British Airways flight, Cabeka revealed they opted not to board American airliners because they did not want to fly over large areas of water.

“We had to force ourselves to be squeezed inside. I could hear the engine running,” Cabeka said.

“My heart had pounded before, but that day it was not in my mind at all because I had just taken the decision to do it.

“I knew how dangerous it was but I just took my own chances. I didn’t care whether I lived or died. I had to leave Africa to survive.”

Cabeka surprisingly survived the dangerous flight despite a lack of oxygen and freezing temperatures. Aviation experts also revealed stowaways who usually hide in the unheated and unpressurized compartments of airplanes are more likely to die, Mail Online reported.

“The thing that made me wake up is the way I dropped out on the runway,” Cabeka said. “I was here. The plane was there. I was asking myself, ‘How did I get out of the plane?’ I could see these guys, they were the guards, they carried me up and I passed out again. I woke up in hospital after being in a coma for six months.”

Doctors also said they believe Cabeka survived because his body was put in a state of “suspended animation” due to the minus temperatures. During that period, the heart, brain and other vital organs are reportedly put in “standby mode” and as such, don’t need that much oxygen, thereby mitigating any damage on the body’s cells and organs.

“I was lucky not to hurt my head,” he said. “I had two burn marks on my arm, but it is OK now because I had surgery. But something is still wrong with my leg. I’m hoping they can sort it out.”

Out of the 109 known global stowaway attempts, only 24 who hid in the plane’s landing gear have managed to survive, Mail Online reported. And though the dangerous journey could have ended with Cabeka losing his life just as his friend Carlito did, he was adamant his quest of seeking greener pastures was justified.

“I had to leave Africa to survive. But I would give other people advice: It’s not safe. It’s a life-or-death situation,” Cabeka, who has since been granted a leave to remain in the UK after applying for asylum, said.

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: January 5, 2021


Must Read

Connect with us

Join our Mailing List to Receive Updates