At 7:42 on September 9, 2012, there was a loud thud in Portman Avenue, an otherwise quiet, suburban street in southwest London, UK. A man wearing a grey hoodie, jeans and white sneakers appeared covered in blood in front of number 22. And although his face and body were smashed beyond identification, the Metropolitan Police had two clues: there was Angolan currency in his pockets and, at the exact time of the thud, a British Airways plane from Angola had been flying over London.
He was not the first. In previous years, two others had fallen from airplanes flying over the same borough, and over the past six decades, 96 people have been discovered traveling in the landing gear of aircraft, often bound for North America from Central America, or for Europe from Africa. Most were crushed by the plane’s machinery, died at the high altitudes from lack of oxygen and hypothermia, or fell fatally when the plane lowered its landing gear.
Police discovered that the man who fell from the sky was a Mozambican named Jose Matada who had traveled across southern Africa for the previous two years, looking for work. On the night of his 27th birthday, Matada snuck into an airport in Luanda, Angola, ran to his chosen plane and climbed into one of its wheel wells: he would go to England. Matada’s only precaution for the eight-hour trip was to stuff some tissue in his ears.