I FELL FROM THE SKY, SURVIVED : SA STOWAWAY

This is Themba Cabeka, a stowaway who clung to the undercarriage of a jumbo jet and survived an 11-hour flight from South Africa to London.

 He spent six months in a coma after being discovered on the ground at Heathrow Airport. He has now spoken for the first time of his terrifying journey. His best friend fell 5,000ft from the aircraft to his death.

Cabeka, 30, recalls: ‘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 friend) saying to me: “Yeah, we’ve made it.” ’

He explained how they left poverty in South Africa‘ in 2015. "The airport was guarded so we jumped over the fence when it was dark. We dressed in black because we have to dress like no one sees us – two T-shirts, three jackets, two jeans.’

After getting over the fence, they hid for about 15 minutes until they spotted a plane ready to take off.

The BA jumbo to London took off at 10.15pm. It was the first time either man had been on an aeroplane. ‘We had to force ourselves to be squeezed inside. I could hear the engine running,’ he 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 tied himself to the plane with an electric cable wrapped around his arm. Aviation experts say it is very rare for stowaways to survive in an unheated, unpressurised part of an aircraft. There is room, though, in the four sets of a 747’s landing gear, each in a housing the size of a car, as long as they stay in one of the corners away from the wheels when they retract.

He still cannot believe he managed to survive temperatures that would have dropped to -60C. The first thing he recalled was lying on the runway with a shattered leg.

‘The thing that made me wake up is the way I dropped out on the runway,’ said Cabeka, who still uses crutches due to injuries sustained when he fell. ‘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 believe Cabeka survived because the freezing temperatures kept him in a state of ‘suspended animation’. With a lowered core body temperature, the heart, brain and other critical organs are placed into a ‘standby mode’ in which they do not require nearly as much oxygen, thus limiting damage to 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.’

Cabeka applied for asylum to stay in the UK and was granted leave to remain – though he is coy about on what grounds that was granted.

He simply says: ‘When I was applying as an asylum-seeker, I went through the process and was accepted.’ He now lives in a one-bedroom flat in Liverpool and is unable to work due to his injury.

 

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