A young man who somehow clung to the bottom of an airplane for the entirety of its eleven-hour journey has spoken out about his horrifying experience.
Here's the full story...
Themba Cabeka is lucky to be alive.
via: GettyIn 2015, Cabeka fled the poverty of the camp he was living in in South Africa to seek a better life in the United Kingdom.
Along with a friend, he hatched a plan to illegally enter the country...
via: GettyBy sneaking into the wheel arch of a Boeing 747-400 destined for Heathrow Airport in London.
It sounds like an impossible mission, doesn't it?
via: GettyBut it turns out that people illegally entering countries by clinging to the exterior of airplanes - otherwise known as "stowaways" - are actually more common than you would have initially believed.
There have been 109 recorded stowaway attempts around the world...
via: GettyBut only twenty-four of the people who took their chances in a plane’s landing gear survived the treacherous journeys.
Obviously, the chances of survival are incredibly slim.
via: GettyNot only do the temperatures at 35,000 feet plummet to -60 degrees celsius, the oxygen supply at that altitude is scarce, meaning that these stowaways have to endure break-neck speeds, below-freezing conditions, and limited oxygen.
So this is why Themba Cabeka's story is so remarkable.
via: GettyIn a new documentary by the British broadcasters, Channel 4, Cabeka has opened up about his treacherous, 5,600-mile flight from Johannesburg, South Africa, to London Heathrow in the United Kingdom, in which he was stowed away in the wheel arch of a British Airways flight.
Cabeka was only twenty-five-years-old at the time...
via: GettyAnd, having been abandoned by his mother when he was just 3 months old, had been living in a campsite near Johannesburg Airport since the age of 7.
He suffered extreme poverty in this camp...
via: GettyAnd said that the violence and gang warfare in the city had left him emotionally broken. "My background was very hard. I was raised by my cousin, who adopted me as a child. Everything was normal until she passed away. I was going to school but I had to drop out because I couldn’t pay the fees."
"And when my cousin died, everything started to break down."
via: GettyFollowing the death of his cousin, Cabeka found himself being targeted for his house. "They [people in the township] wanted to kill me to get the house. I ended up in the hospital for 3 days and had to leave the township... My life was going to waste. It’s very hard being homeless. I tried to build myself up but it was too hard."
But, after meeting his friend, Carlito Vale, in a Johannesburg nightclub, he was inspired to turn his life around.
"He told me he was married but he’d broken up with his wife and he had a daughter. He told me he was homeless. I said: 'Look at me. I’m like you. We have to stick together.'"
The pair quickly became close, with Cabeka noting:
via: Getty"He opened his heart to me and I opened my heart to him, so we became friends. He was a good guy because he was quiet. He didn’t like violence. We had the same thoughts because of our situation. I didn’t have any family so I thought: 'It’s better for me to leave the country and look for somewhere to start.' He felt the same."
And from this, their escape plan was hatched.
via: GettyAfter looking at Vale’s collection of engineering books which included one about airplanes, the pair came up with the idea to sneak into the wing arch of a flight destined for London. Cabeka added that, when selecting which flight to stowaway upon, they deliberately avoided American airliners because they "didn’t want to fly over large expanses of water."
They eventually settled on the British Airways flight to London Heathrow on the evening of June 18th, 2015.
via: Getty"The airport was guarded so we jumped over the fence when it was dark,’ Cabeka said. ‘We dressed in black because we have to dress like no one sees us - 2 T-shirts, 3 jackets, 2 pairs of jeans." After getting over the fence, they hid for around fifteen minutes until they spotted a plane ready to take off.
It was the first time either of the men had been on an airplane.
via: Getty"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."
via: GettyCabeka tied himself to the plane with an electric cable wrapped around his arms, something that experts credit to his survival.
Of the journey itself, he recalled:
via: Getty"When the plane was flying, I could see the ground, I could see the cars, I could see small people... The last thing I remember just after the plane took off was Carlito saying to me: 'Yeah, we’ve made it.'"
Very soon though, Cabeka passed out from lack of oxygen.
via: GettyThe next thing he remembered was lying on the runway at Heathrow with a shattered leg. "The thing that made me wake up is the way I dropped out on the runway," he recalled. "I was here. The plane was there. I was asking myself, 'How did I get out of the plane?' I could see these guys, they were the guards, they carried me up and I passed out again. I woke up in hospital after being in a coma for 6 months."
However, he awoke to some devastating news.
via: GettyWhen he came out of his coma, a police officer showed him Carlito’s passport and asked: "Do you know him?" Cabeka then replied, "Of course I know him. That’s my friend, Carlito," to which the officer responded: "He never made it. He fell on top of a building." His body had been found in the air-conditioning unit of an office block in Richmond, 6 miles from Heathrow.
Doctors believe Cabeka survived because the freezing temperatures kept him in a state of "suspended animation."
via: GettyWith a lowered core body temperature, the heart, brain, and other critical organs are placed into a "standby mode" in which they do not require nearly as much oxygen, thus limiting damage to cells and organs.
Cabeka applied for asylum to stay in the U.K. following his ordeal and, thankfully, was granted leave to remain.
Themba Cabeka,the towaway who survived 9,012km flight at -60°C clinging to Heathrow has get UK asylum. Themba Cab… https://t.co/uid8kS3n2x— Victor Nkomoz (@Victor Nkomoz)1609768645.0
"I’m now waiting to get a passport. It takes 5 years to get a British passport and then I will be able to fly on a plane."
via: GettyHowever, he still struggles with the guilt that, while he survived, his friend didn’t. "I missed his funeral because I was in a coma. I was sad that he was buried and I couldn’t say goodbye. So I went to put flowers on his grave... I miss his presence. I used to call him 'my brother from another mother.' He’s the only guy who knew me, more than anybody, where I come from."
"I feel we’ve both come on a long journey together so he’s still my friend - no matter that he’s gone."
via: GettyDespite the death of his friend and his own injuries, however, Cabeka says his decision to risk his life to start a new one here was worth it. "I had to leave Africa to survive. But I would give other people advice: It’s not safe. It’s a life-or-death situation." The Man Who Fell From The Sky airs tonight on Channel 4. For more fascinating stories, read on...