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Stowaway Who Travelled To UK In Plane Wheel Woke To Find Friend Had Fallen To Death

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Stowaway Who Travelled To UK In Plane Wheel Woke To Find Friend Had Fallen To Death

A stowaway who survived a 5,600-mile flight from South Africa to the UK in the wheel of an British Airways plane has spoken out about the horrific journey that killed his friend.

Themba Cabeka suffered permanent burns and endured temperatures as low as -60C during the 10-hour flight from Johannesburg to London Heathrow on 18 June 2015.

Credit: PA
Credit: PA

His friend, Carlito Vale, a Mozambican national in his late-20s, fell and was found dead on the roof of a west London office building.

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Mr Cabeka, who is in his early-30s and is now known to friends as Justin, was lucky to survive after being thrown from the plane's wheel onto the Heathrow runway. His leg had to be amputated and he was placed in a coma for six months.

Before he left South Africa, Mr Cabeka was sleeping rough on the streets of crime-ridden Johannesburg for five years, doing odd jobs just to get by. Mr Cabeka and Mr Vale decided to leave in search of a better life.

But neither of them could afford flights and visas, so Mr Cabeka read a book on plane designs and worked out the best place to hide would be in the space around the wheels.

Mr Cabeka remembered: "We had to jump over the fence [of the airport]. Then we had to get to the wheel, and climb up until we were stuck inside.

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"Once I was inside the wheels, I secured myself by clinging onto two metal bars inside the cavity. I was not afraid of falling, because I had faith."

Mr Cabeka featured in Channel 4 documentary The Man Who Fell From The Sky. Credit: Channel 4/Postcard Productions
Mr Cabeka featured in Channel 4 documentary The Man Who Fell From The Sky. Credit: Channel 4/Postcard Productions

The metal bars Mr Cabeka clutched onto got hotter during the flight, leaving him with lifelong burns. But at height, temperatures plummeted to as low as -60C.

All Mr Cabeka had to combat the freezing temperatures were two pairs of jeans, and three jackets, which were the only clothes he owned.

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During the flight, the two friends were in pitch black conditions and all they could hear were the engines vibrating around them. Mr Cabeka went on: "You can't see anything, it's just dark inside. All you can feel is air, and the rumble of the engines.

"I fell asleep because of the lack of oxygen, that's why I didn't see my friend when he fell out."

Recalling their last conversation, Mr Cabeka said: "He said: 'We made it'. I said 'Of course we made it, man.' Those were the last words I heard from him, because I passed out."

Credit: My London/BPM Media
Credit: My London/BPM Media
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Mr Cabeka said he still thinks about their last conversation daily and struggles to look in the mirror as a result.

He explained: "Unfortunately he's not here, so I'm by myself now. They still haunt me but I have to keep on going.

"Every time I face the mirror it feels like I'm missing something. Everything is different, this isn't way it was supposed to go, I think about him so much."

A short while after waking up from the coma, he was kept at an immigration detention centre for around six months. Mr Cabeka was denied asylum but was granted right to remain in the UK.

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He started sleeping rough before a student called Gabriel Frood, 21, from Crystal Palace, saw him sitting in the cold and stopped for a conversation.

Shocked by Mr Cabeka's story, Mr Frood took him in and set up a GoFundMe page, which has already raised almost £10,000 ($13,700). Mr Cabeka is still staying with Mr Food until he finds more suitable accommodation.

You can donate to Mr Cabeka's fundraiser here.

Featured Image Credit: My London/BPM Media

Topics: UK News

Rebecca Shepherd
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