Stowaway survives flight to UK clinging to jet wheel as pal plummets to death

A stowaway survived a terrifying 5,600-mile flight to the UK clinging to the wheels of a plane while his pal plummeted to his death.

Themba Cabeka, 30, lived to tell the tale of his ride on a flight from Johannesburg in South Africa to London's Heathrow Airport.

On the harrowing 11-hour journey his best friend Carlito Vale fell 5,000ft to his death.

Themba passed out due to the chilling -60C temperature and lack of oxygen and spent months in a coma before waking up to discover his friend's sad passing.

Carlito, originally from Mozambique, fell from BA flight 54 just a minute before landing on July 18, 2015, and his body was later found in the air-conditioning unit of an office block six miles from Heathrow.

Themba's identity has been revealed for the first time in Channel 4 documentary The Man Who Fell From The Sky as he told how he and his friend hid in the plane's landing gear in their desperation to reach the UK.

He said: "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.'"

There have been 109 stowaway attempts around the world, but only two stowaways have made the treacherous trip to the UK and thought to have lived to tell the tale.

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One was Pardeep Saini, a car mechanic from Punjab, India, who endured a ten-hour flight from Delhi to London in 1996, and Themba.

The latter was tracked down by Channel 4 producer Rich Bentley to a flat in Liverpool where he is now living.

He has since adopted a British name, Justin.

Themba met Carlito in a Johannesburg nightclub and the pair began plotting their illegal journey to the UK.

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The pair lived together in a campsite near Johannesburg Airport.

Telling of how they smuggled themselves onto a plane, Themba said: "The airport was guarded so we jumped over the fence when it was dark. We dressed in black because we have to dress like no one sees us."

The would-be stowaways hid for 15 minutes waiting for a plane ready to take off, deliberately avoiding US-bound jets because they did not want to fly over large expanses of water.

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Themba said: "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 tied himself to the plane with an electric cable wrapped around his arm and aviation experts say his survival was very rare.

Themba passed out due to the lack of oxygen and woke up after dropping out on the runway. He spent six months in a coma and still uses crutches due to injuries sustained in the fall, leaving him unable to work.

He applied for asylum in the UK and was granted leave to remain.

The Man Who Fell From The Sky airs on Channel 4 tomorrow at 10pm.

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