UK Police Probe Death Of Apparent Airplane Stowaway

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:09 PM EDT

London ( - British police continue to investigate the discovery of a body on an airport runway on Christmas Day. Investigators speculate the man may have been a Cuban migrant who froze to death after stowing away in a wheel bay of an aircraft.

Police found the body after a worker at Gatwick Airport near London reported seeing something fall from a British Airways Boeing 777 as it took off, bound for Mexico.

There is speculation the man hid inside the landing gear prior to an earlier flight from Havana to Britain, died in the freezing temperatures and then fell out as the plane took off.

A spokesman for the Sussex county police said Wednesday the identification process was continuing, but is expected to a long process because the man had not been carrying identification papers.

A Gatwick Airport duty officer described the person as a "young man." A Gatwick spokesperson said security around planes was the airport's responsibility, and that its procedures were carried out in line with standards set by the government.

"It's not appropriate to speculate about this ahead of the [completion of the] police investigation," she added.

British Airways has announced it will review its own security procedures. A press officer said Wednesday the company was cooperating with the police investigation, but otherwise was not willing to comment on the case.

Just one day earlier, another body of an apparent airline stowaway was discovered in England, on a farm beneath the flight paths of both Gatwick and Heathrow airports.

The young man, of Mediterranean appearance, may have been there for some time before discovery, making a link with a particular flight even more difficult. His body showed signs of having fallen from a considerable height.

Lack of oxygen and freezing temperatures make it unlikely that an undercarriage stowaway will survive.

In 1996, two Indian brothers hid in a wheel bay of an airliner on a flight from New Delhi to London. One fell to his death as the landing gear was lowered on the approach to Heathrow but the other, Pardeep Singh, survived and was allowed to stay in Britain.

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow