23 December 2012

Mozambique: Stowaway On London-Bound Plane Was Mozambican

Maputo — British police now believe that a stowaway who fell from an aircraft onto a London street, near Heathrow Airport, in September may have been a Mozambican citizen.

The man had hidden in the undercarriage of a passenger jet, but fell from a height of about 750 metres as the aircraft made its approach to Heathrow.

His body was found on a street in the London suburb of Mortlake, and initially the fact that he was carrying the Angolan currency, kwanzas, led police to suspect that he was an Angolan.

But a cell phone and SIM card were also found on the man’s body, and careful police investigation, reported in the British daily “The Independent”, has led to the current theory that he was from Mozambique.

The body was discovered on 9 September. A witness heard the body hit the ground at 07.42 – which was exactly when British Airways flight BA76, from Luanda to Heathrow, lowered its undercarriage for landing.

The man was carrying no passport or any other form of identification. His possessions were a wad of Angolan banknotes, a Botswanan coin, a mobile phone that used the Angolan provider Movicel, and a second SIM card, from Zambia.

The police found that the cell phone was damaged beyond repair, and its SIM card was locked. However the Zambian SIM card was not locked, and the police could extract seven numbers, one in Switzerland, and the rest in Botswana and Zambia.

Detective-Sergeant Jeremy Allsup, the officer heading the inquiry, told “The Independent” that, when he tried the Swiss number, he was hoping it might belong to one of the man’s parents.

Initially, there was no answer, but last week a woman responded, and when Allsup described the body to him, she said the description matched a housekeeper and gardener who had worked for her in South Africa. She told the police her gardener had tattoed the letters “ZG” (the initials of his nickname) on his upper left arm – and the police found just such a tattoo on the body.

The man had crossed from Mozambique into South Africa looking for work, and she had employed him. She knew he still had family living in Mozambique.

The woman left South Africa in 2010 and did not know what had happened to her gardener until he contacted her in September this year, saying that he was in Angola and intended to seek a new life in Europe. The SIM card and his other possessions suggest that he made his way into Angola overland, via Botswana and Zambia.

Somehow he eluded security at Luanda airport and climbed into the undercarriage of the British Airways plane. He had tissue paper in his ears – but it was the cold, not the noise, he should have worried about. Outside the pressurized cabin of a jet aircraft, the temperature on an intercontinental flight drops to around minus 63 degrees centigrade, and there is too little oxygen to remain conscious.

It is thus more than likely that the man died of a combination of oxygen shortage and hypothermia during the flight, and that when the undercarriage opened, it was an already lifeless body that plummeted to the ground.

The London police have not yet released the man’s name, but are trying to contact his next of kin via Mozambican officials.

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