LONDON (MEDIA GENERAL) – A stowaway found in the undercarriage of a British Airways flight from Johannesburg may not have been the only person hitching a free ride to London, though he was the only one to reach the airport alive.
British police are investigating after a man’s body was found on a rooftop Thursday, June 18, 2015 in west London. Investigators believe the man may have been a stowaway hiding in the wheel well compartment on a flight headed to Heathrow Airport.
The 10-hour flight departed from Johannesburg to London when the man fell Thursday. Nearing the end of the 6,000 mile flight, he landed above a business in Richmond, southwest London.
A second man was found in the undercarriage of the plane and was hospitalized for his injuries. Police say there is no evidence to link the two so far.
The Federal Aviation Administration reported there have been 105 stowaway attempts in airplane wheel wells since 1947, not including this latest one, and that 80 of them died.
“It’s not difficult to climb inside a wheel well,” Jose Wolfman Guillen, a ground operations coordinator at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, told CNN.
“You can grab onto the struts and landing gear assembly kind of like a ladder,” he said. “And you just jump on the tire and climb into the wheel well.”
The risk associated with stowing away is far greater than boarding a plane illegally. Surviving the extreme conditions that occur once the plane begins to ascend is rare – only 24 percent do. The undercarriage and wheel well compartments of a plane are not equipped with heating, oxygen or pressure control, all of which are crucial for survival at high altitudes.
“The two primary physiological and medical concerns are reduced oxygen pressure that will lead to hypoxia (loss of consciousness) and the extreme cold that leads to hypothermia,” Jeff Sventek, an aerospace physiologist and executive director of the Aerospace Medical Association, told National Geographic last year.
According to a BBC report, “Stowaways whose bodies are not mangled by the retracting landing gear or killed by these extreme conditions will almost certainly be unconscious by the time the compartment doors re-open a few thousand feet above ground, causing them to plunge to their deaths.”
According to the BBC, an overwhelming majority of cases involve male individuals from developing countries trying to make their way to North America or Europe.