For years people have tried to stow away on aircraft, and it rarely works. Usually they’ll climb up into a wheel well but it can get -50 degrees in there during flight, and it’s not even pressurized. Usually people die.
Now, a United Express baggage handler got trapped in the cargo hold of a regional jet and flew to Washington DC while a drunk baggage handler fell asleep inside the cargo hold of an American Airlines plane and flew to Chicago but those environments are (somewhat) safer and these domestic flights weren’t very long. Usually though it’s someone in search of a better life like the Havana airport worker who stowed away to the United States or the Chinese teen who hid himself on an Emirates plane to Dubai.
However one man hopped a British Airways plane out of Africa and made it the 11 hour journey across 5500 miles – and lived to tell the tale.
30 year old Themba Cabeka “held on to the jet’s undercarriage for the entire 11-hour flight from South Africa to London Heathrow in 2015.” He was discovered on the runway after the plane landed at Heathrow, and he was unconscious and hospitalized for six months. But he was granted asylum in the U.K. and wasn’t forced to return to South Africa.
Cabeka and a friend made the trip together. They both crawled into the wheel well of the British Airways flight. It was the first time on a plane for either of them, as they sought to escape poverty. They tied themselves to the plane with electric cable, and as the plane gained altitude passed out from lack of oxygen.
The friend didn’t make it, falling from the plane on descent at around 5000 feet, six miles out from Heathrow airport.
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 saying to me: ‘Yeah, we’ve made it.’ We had to force ourselves to be squeezed inside. I could hear the engine running. 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.
Themba survived because the freezing temperatures slowed down his body and reduced his need for oxygen. He’s grateful he made it, now living in Liverpool, England, but misses his friend and has guilt for missing the man’s funeral while he was unconscious offering “I used to call him “my brother from another mother”. He’s the only guy who knew me, more than anybody, where I come from. I feel we’ve both come on a long journey together so he’s still my friend – no matter that he’s gone.”
If there are two lessons I’d draw, it’s first – do not try this at home, the odds of success are low – but second, desperate people looking to improve their lives will go to tremendous lengths. And as a general matter these are the people I want to have around. It gives me an optimism that undergirds my support for greater freedom of immigration.
(HT: The Travel Insider)