Black South African: I hid in wheel of plane to Heathrow for 11 hours as my friend plunged to his death


[Look at the incredible risks that Blacks take TO GET OUT OF AFRICA! In this case, this is a Black South African. Jan]

Themba Cabeka was desperate to start a new life in Britain.

So desperate that he travelled to the UK by hiding in the wheel of a plane.

It was a journey that, somehow, he survived. But only just. And at huge cost.

During the 8,000-mile trip from Johannesburg, in South Africa, to London, Themba experienced temperatures of -60C and was unconscious for part of the flight due to a lack of oxygen.

As the plane approached Heathrow Airport, his friend, who also made the terrifying 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.

Themba experienced temperatures of -60C during the trip

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.

But finding your way into the wheels of a plane isn’t easy.

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.”

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.

Themba is lucky to be alive

As the plane took 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.

“You can’t see anything, it’s just dark inside," he recalled. “All you can feel is air, and the rumble of the engines.”

Themba describes the initial stages of the flight as boring and he soon began to lose consciousness due to a lack of oxygen.

It would be the last time he was to see his friend.

“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.”

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

Carlito fell from the plane as it approached the runway and his body was found on the roof of an office building in Kew Road, RIchmond below the Heathrow flightpath.

Themba slept rough for a number of years

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.

“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 spent a night sleeping rough on the capital’s streets before staying at a homeless shelter in Elephant and Castle. He was then moved to a shelter in Liverpool but claims the accommodation was “completely inappropriate” as there was drink and drugs paraphernalia everywhere.

Fearing for his own safety, Themba resorted to roaming the freezing streets. It was there he met Gabriel Frood who was studying in the city.

Themba was on a flight from Johannesburg, South Africa to Heathrow Airport (Image: Jack Taylor/Getty Images)

The 21-year-old, from Crystal Palace, found him sitting in the cold and stopped to talk. He was shocked by the story Themba told and 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.

Despite the trauma, Themba insists his journey was worth it. He does, however, concede that he would not repeat the 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.”

Themba is optimistic about his future.

He said: “I’m just trying to figure my way out to get something better for myself.”

Themba is still staying with Gabriel until he finds more suitable accommodation.


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