Terrified man hid in wheel of plane to UK for 11 hours as pal plunged to death
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A man who fell asleep while hiding in the wheel of a plane to Heathrow found out his friend had plunged to his death on the terrifying journey.
Themba Cabeka made the death-defying trip from South Africa to the UK in a desperate bid to start a new life in Britain.
Somehow, Themba managed to survive against all odds – however, it was at a cost.
The man had placed himself inside the wheel of a plane and experienced temperatures of -60C.
Due to the lack of oxygen he was also unconscious for a part of the 11-hour flight.
After the 8,000-mile trip, the plane finally approached Heathrow Airport, but his friend, who also made the trip, fell to his death.
Themba himself was thrown from the plane's wheel onto the runway. His leg had to be amputated and he was placed in a coma for six months.
This is the incredible story of a stowaway who felt such an extraordinary risk was worth taking for the dream of a better life in the UK.
Before he left South Africa, Themba was sleeping rough on the streets of crime-ridden Johannesburg for five years, doing odd jobs just to get by.
So, in 2015, he left South Africa in search of something better with his friend, Carlito Vale.
However, neither could afford flights and visas, so Themba read a book on plane designs and worked out the best place to hide would be in the space around the wheels.
Themba exclusively told My London: “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.
“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.”
Stowaway survives flight to UK clinging to jet wheel as pal plummets to death
The metal bars Themba clutched onto heated up during the flight, leaving the 31-year-old with lifelong burns.
But that was the only warm part of the journey, as temperatures can plummet to as low as -60C.
And all Themba had to combat the freezing conditions was two pairs of jeans and three jackets, the only clothes he owned.
Whilst the plane was taking off Themba insists he was "relaxed", because what he was doing, in his view, "wasn’t anything major".
He said: “I was feeling very calm, because it’s just a small thing, it’s not a big deal, you know?”
During the flight Themba and Carlito were in pitch black conditions, and all they could hear was the engines vibrating around them.
“All you can feel is air, and the rumble of the engines.”
Describing the initial stages of the flight as boring, Themba soon lost consciousness due to a lack of oxygen.
“I fell asleep because of the lack of oxygen, that’s why I didn’t see my friend when he fell out," he said.
Tragically, Carlito fell out of the plane as it approached the runway and his body was found on a roof below the Heathrow flightpath.
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When Themba passed out that was the last time he ever saw his friend. Unsurprisingly, Themba vividly remembers his and Carlito’s last conversation.
“Carlito said ‘we made it’," he recalled. "I said ‘Of course we made it, man'.
“Those were the last words I heard from him, because I passed out.”
The 31-year-old thinks about their last conversation daily.
He said: “Unfortunately he’s not here, so I’m by myself now. That still haunts 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.”
Themba himself also fell out the plane, but only right before the aircraft landed. And it wasn’t pleasant. He was awoken by the force of his body bouncing off tarmac.
This fall came at a price. He hit the floor with such an impact that his leg had to be amputated.
“I fell out onto the runway and my leg snapped,” he said.
Lying on the floor, broken and barely conscious, Themba was then apprehended
He said: “I woke up and all I saw was two people shouting ‘He jumped out of the plane!’ They came and arrested me, and took me to the hospital.
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“And from there, because of the lack of oxygen and cold from the flight, I passed out in a coma for six months.”
A short while after waking up from the coma, he was detained at an immigration detention centre for around six months.
Despite his perilous journey, he was denied asylum but was granted the right to remain in the country.
Themba was forced into roaming the freezing streets of Liverpool.
Fortunately for Themba, Gabriel Frood, 21, from Crystal Palace, who was studying in Liverpool at the time, saw him sitting in the cold, and stopped for a conversation.
Shocked by Themba’s story, the 21-year-old felt duty-bound to help.
So he took Themba in and set up a GoFundMe, which has already raised £9,000 of a £50,000 target.
He insists that despite the trauma, his journey was worth it, but he wouldn’t repeat his trip.
“It was worth it, because now it seems like everything’s changed, and things are different to what they were before (in South Africa)," he said.
“I was just trying to survive, but I’d never do it again.”
You can donate to the GoFundMe appeal here.
- In the News
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