Stowaway survived 5,600-mile flight by clinging to jumbo jet wheel at -60C as pal plunged to his death

A STOWAWAY survived a 5,600-mile flight by clinging to a jumbo jet wheel at -60C – while his mate plunged to his death.

Themba Cabeka, 30, held on to the jet's undercarriage for the entire 11-hour flight from South Africa to London Heathrow in 2015.

He was unconscious in hospital for six months after he was discovered on the runway at the airport in London.

After Themba emerged from a coma, he was told that his best friend, who he had started the journey with, had fallen to his death at 5,000ft.

Themba had tied himself to the plane with an electric cable wrapped around his arm – but soon after takeoff from Johannesburg on June 18, 2015, he passed out through lack of oxygen.

It was the first time Themba or his pal Carlito Vale had ever been on an aeroplane.

Carlito was also escaping South Africa and the poverty of their camp site as he crawled with his friend into the wheel arch of the jet.

But just minutes before landing, he fell from the British Airways plane.

His body was found in the air-conditioning unit of an office block in Richmond, six miles from Heathrow.


The 30-year-old 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 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.

“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."

He remembers waking up from a coma six months later to a police officer showing him Carlito’s passport, asking if he knew him.

The officer then told him: "He never made it. He fell on top of a building."

Five and a half years later, Themba, who has now adopted the name Justin, has got asylum and is living in Liverpool.

Doctors believe he survived because the freezing temperatures kept him in a state of "suspended animation."

With a lowered core body temperature, his critical organs were placed into a "standby mode" where they use up less oxygen.

Themba still struggles with the guilt that, while he survived, his friend didn’t.

He said: "I missed his funeral because I was in a coma.

"I was sad that he was buried and I couldn’t say goodbye. So I went to put flowers on his grave.

"I miss his presence. 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."

There have been 109 recorded stowaway attempts around the world – but only 24 people who took their chances in a plane’s landing gear have survived. 

London is one of the most popular locations for stowaways.

Themba was approached by Channel 4 producer Rich Bentley, who tracked him down to a flat in Liverpool for a documentary, The Man Who Fell From The Sky.

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