Fifty six years ago, when he was 20 years old, Brian Robson decided to ship himself from Australia to London as cargo. So he got two friends to help nail him into a shipping crate. He made it as far as Los Angeles and lived, and was given a free trip onward to London as a passenger. Now he’s telling history in a book, and he wants to make a documentary.
People usually die when they stow away on an aircraft, due to cold temperatures and lack of oxygen at altitude. Although one desperate man survived as a stowaway from a British Airways aircraft from Africa to London while the other person who tried with him perished, falling to the earth from about 5000 feet.
Robson was working taking tickets for a railroad in Melbourne, Australia, but wanted to return home to the U.K. But he didn’t have the money – not only did he need the fare for the ticket home, he’d have to repay the Australian government which had funded his trip Down Under to work. Travel was much more expensive then – nearly a year’s wages.
He tried to stow away on a boat but was caught and spent nearly 3 months in jail. He was even more determined to leave the former penal colony.
- He purchased a crate that measured 36 by 30 by 38 inches — just large enough to sit with his knees pressed against his chest”
- He paid to ship a box from Melbourne to London via Sydney
- He listed the shipment as a mainframe computer. That let him tag the cargo as fragile and valuable so that “people [would] heed labels that said ‘This Side Up.'”
- In the box with him were a bottle of water, a flashlight, a book of songs by the Beatles, along with a suitcase, pillow, and hammer. There was also “an empty bottle he said was ‘for obvious purposes.'”
He didn’t bring any food with him, because he was going to be in the crate for 5 days and might need more than just the bottle. Things didn’t go quite as planned,
The pain hit him just two hours in. In Sydney, he was flipped upside down for 23 hours. He was placed upright on the next flight, which, instead of going to London, was diverted through Los Angeles.
Conditions were bad. “It’s freezing cold, or it’s boiling hot,” he said. “You’re going in and out of consciousness the whole time, you’re having very weird dreams and you’re not sure whether the dreams are real.” He didn’t have the strength to break out with the hammer.
Three days into his trip he heard someone talking about the light from his flashlight emanating from the supposed-computer box. He was discovered, and he wasn’t in good shape – he “could not unravel his legs on his own.” He was taken to the hospital in Los Angeles, and recovered.
The U.S. didn’t charge him with any crime, because he had a valid British passport and was eligible to enter the country in Los Angeles. Pan Am flew him – as a passenger – on to London for free.
And Robson has finally, after 56 years, tracked down the friends who worked at the railroad in Melbourne with him who helped him pull off the stunt.