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 U.K., an inquest has heard.

Jose 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 coroner’s 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, but authorities have been unable to trace any family or official confirmation of his identity.

His body was found on the pavement of Portman Avenue, in East Sheen, an affluent west London suburb, shortly before 7:45a.m. on September 9 last year, just after flight BA76 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 left arm, matching that on the body found in west London.

Nearly there

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 -60°C 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,” Mr. 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 London 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”, though there was no reason to think she knew his plans.

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.” Such cases are not unknown. Just 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.

In 2001, a stowaway from Pakistan fell into the car park of a Homebase store, not far from East Sheen.

While that man’s family was traced, the only information about Matada appears to come from his former employer.

One in four

Records collated by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration 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. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2013

Jose Matada’s died on his 26th birthday while on a desperate journey inside the landing gear of a flight in search of a better life in Europe