26 December 2000

Stowaways found dead after falling from planes

Police were last night trying to reconstruct the final moments of two aircraft stowaways who fell to their deaths from the undercarriages of passenger jets.

The first, a man in his twenties, was found by farm workers on Christmas Eve in the middle of an 80-acre field at Rudgwick, on the West Sussex-Surrey border. The man's injuries and the location of the field, directly beneath the main flight path into Gatwick and Heathrow airports, suggested that he had fallen to his death as an aircraft lowered its undercarriage in preparation to land.

At 9.30am yesterday, a man fell from the undercarriage of a British Airways Boeing 777 as it took off from Gatwick, bound for Mexico. Any connection between the incidents was ruled out.

Police said the first body might have been in the field at Broadstone Farm for several days. A spokesman said: "The man was of Mediterranean appearance and was thought to have been a stowaway aboard a plane flying into Gatwick.

"The probability is that he had sought refuge in the nose wheel or main landing gear of the plane and, as it flew over Rudgwick on the approach to Gatwick, the victim fell out as the wheels were lowered. The man was certified dead at the scene and had quite possibly been dead when he fell from the plane. We have been unable to identify the man and have no idea yet which plane he fell from."

In the second incident, a man was seen falling several hundred feet on to the runway apron. The British Airways flight, with 300 passengers, continued its journey. Michael Ingle, terminal manager at Gatwick, said: "The main runway was closed for a short time and flights were diverted on to the emergency northern runway."