José Matada was 'probably dead or at point of death' due to hypothermia and lack of oxygen when he fell, inquest told
A young man whose body was found on a pavement in west London almost certainly died after stowing away inside the landing gear of a British Airways flight from Angola in a desperate attempt to make a new life in the UK, an inquest has heard.
José Matada was either dead or at the point of death due to hypothermia and lack of oxygen when he fell from the plane as its undercarriage opened for its descent into Heathrow airport, west London coroners court was told.
He died on his 26th birthday, with a single pound coin in his pocket, as well as currency from Botswana. He is believed to have originally come from Mozambique.
His body was found on the pavement of Portman Avenue, in East Sheen, an affluent west London suburb, shortly before 7.45am on 9 September last year, just after flight BA076 from Luanda, the Angolan capital, passed overhead.
Matada, usually known as Youssoup, was only identified after analysis from an Angolan mobile phone sim card found in a pocket. This showed he had been exchanging text messages with an Anglo-Swiss woman for whom he had formerly worked.
The woman, now based in Switzerland and identified only as Hunt, said Matada had worked for her family as a housekeeper and gardener when they lived in South Africa in 2010. She correctly described a distinctive tattoo on his arm, matching that on the body found in west London.
Giving evidence, Robert Chapman, a Home Office-registered consultant forensic pathologist who examined Matada's body, said that while the stowaway was only wearing light clothes he seemed to have survived the bulk of the 12-hour trip from the south Atlantic coast of Africa through being young and very fit, though low oxygen levels and temperatures of down to -60C in the unpressurised wheel recess of the Boeing 777 would have left him unconscious.
"In my view he was either very close to the point of death or, indeed, dead when he struck the ground," Chapman said. He described Matada's long list of injuries, which appeared consistent with a fall from a great height.
Detective Sergeant Jeremy Allsup, who led the Metropolitan police investigation, said the text messages Matada exchanged with his former employer involved a discussion of him "travelling to Europe for a better life", although there was no reason to think she knew his plans.
Homicide detectives had ruled out foul play, Allsup said, and the timings strongly indicated Matada had been on the Luanda flight. This landed at Heathrow at 7.45am, three minutes after a resident in Portman Avenue heard a thud outside.
Matada's family has never been traced. Aside from the media the brief inquest was attended by just four people.
The coroner, Sean Cummings, recorded a verdict of accidental death. He said: "This sort of travel is not very common but I'm surprised by the numbers."
Two weeks before Matada's case the body of another man was found inside a plane after it landed from Cape Town, raising worries about security. BA says this is the responsibility of the airports concerned, not the carrier.
BA operates two flights a week from Luanda, mainly carrying oil workers and Angolan students. The aircraft lands in Luanda at 5am and sits on the tarmac until the return at midnight, giving potential stowaways time and the cover of darkness.
Records collated by the US Federal Aviation Authority suggest that at best one in four stowaways survives, but many others die or fall in transit. Survivors rarely escape unscathed – frostbite claims limbs. Among the few who did live was a Romanian on a Vienna to Heathrow flight in 2010, but he was in the air for only an hour at an unusually low altitude.
In 2001, a stowaway from Pakistan fell into the car park of a Homebase store, not far from East Sheen.
© Guardian News and Media 2013