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Incredible story behind famous photo of boy who fell from a jumbo jet

Incredible story behind famous photo of boy who fell from a jumbo jet

It's so haunting it's hard to believe it's real

Perhaps you’ve not seen this snap before and you’re already doubting it.

But as haunting as it is, this famous photo of a teenage boy falling from a jumbo jet is in fact real.

On 22 February 1970, Keith Sapsford made the tragic decision to climb into an airplane’s wheel-well to ‘see how to the rest of the world lives’.

The 14-year-old Aussie was desperate for adventure and snuck onto the tarmac at Sydney Airport, sneaking into the plane bound for Japan.

But tragically, Keith wasn’t aware that the compartment would reopen after liftoff, sending him plummeting 60 metres.

And at that same moment, amateur photographer John Gilpin was taking photos at the airport.

The photographer didn't even realise he'd captured it.
John Gilpin

He didn’t even realise he’d captured the teen’s last moments until about a week later when he developed the film.

Keith’s family had not long since taken an overseas trip to quench his thirst for travel.

On 23 February 1970, the Associated Press reported that his father, Charles Sapsford, said: "All my son wanted to do was to see the world. He had itchy feet. His determination to see how the rest of the world lives has cost him his life."

Once the family returned from their travels, Keith had an 'urge to keep on the move' and was restless in their hometown of Randwick, New South Wales.

This was when Charles made the decision to send his son to a Roman Catholic Institution in Sydney to 'straighten him out', but the young boy ran away a number of times.

Sydney Airport.
stellalevi/Getty Images

After only two weeks there, he escaped pretty easily and headed to Sydney Airport where he managed to get onto the runway and climb into the wheel-well of a Japan Airlines plane destined for Tokyo.

It took a couple of hours for the plane to head off while Keith waited in the compartment.

The MailOnline reported that technicians believed the boy - who was dressed in shorts and a short-sleeved shirt - was unaware the latch would reopen after take-off to bring the wheel back inside, which is when he fell.

According to doctors, Keith would have most likely died on the journey even without falling, due to the freezing altitude temperatures and lack of oxygen.

Tragically, Charles explained how he had previously spoken to Keith about a Spanish boy who died hiding inside the undercarriage of a plane just months before the incident.

Featured Image Credit: John Gilpin

Topics: Australia