A stowaway appears to have plunged thousands of feet onto a quiet residential street after his frozen body dropped out of an aeroplane’s undercarriage as it came in to land.
The body of the man, thought to be in his 30s and from North Africa, was found on a car parked in a road near London Heathrow Airport by shocked residents at 7:55am yesterday morning.
Locals in Mortlake, south west London, said the man had suffered multiple injuries and parts of his body had flown up to 20ft away ‘like a melon being whacked’ – but nobody else was injured.
Mortlake, an affluent suburb in the capital which lies on the south bank of the River Thames near Barnes and Kew Gardens, is around 10 miles west of the airport and on the flight path.
Billy Watson, 26, who lives opposite where the man fell, saw the body ‘all twisted up’ and believed it belonged to someone of Albanian or Moroccan origin.
He said: ‘His head was twisted one way and one of his legs was the wrong way round. His hip had popped out and one of his arms was behind him the wrong way.
‘Bits of his body were just everywhere, and the police were putting their cones by them. The bits had spread about 20 to 30ft away and there was a bit of him in front of my car.
‘He was wearing blue jeans, white trainers and a dark jumper. There was a big pool of blood coming from his head. No-one was around him when I first saw him.
‘It has been a bit sombre and it’s quite creepy. It was a good six hours before it was all clean. The council (employee) had to come and clean it and he just had a broom and a bucket.’
The only pieces of evidence left on the scene today were dark smears on the pavement where the blood was cleared up and a bunch of lilies and a rose left by neighbours to mark the spot.
Richard Taylor, from the Civil Aviation Authority, said this kind of incident was not the first of its kind and added that there was very little chance of survival for stowaways.
He said: ‘The temperatures in the undercarriage reach -40C (-40F) at high altitudes, so the person has basically frozen to death. There is virtually no chance of someone surviving that.’
‘It is a very dangerous environment. Very often people get crushed to death by the landing gear when it retracts. It is surprising that people still do it. I guess they don’t realise they have very little chance of surviving.’
He added: ‘When the landing gear comes down at the other end, a couple of miles from the runway and about 2,000ft in the air, if there is a person who had died they would fall out.’
The flight path over Portman Avenue where the body was found, around 10 miles from Heathrow, is where the planes opens their undercarriage and lower wheels ready for landing.
A 58-year-old man who lives one door down from where the body was found but did not wish to be named, added: ‘No one saw him fall because it was early on a Sunday morning.
‘But just imagine a melon being whacked and that is how he was. He was face down with his feet by the wall and his head by the kerb. There was a lot of blood. I just felt sorry for the guy.’
Local resident Annie Williams, 47, described hearing a ‘monstrous bang’ when she was opening her curtains yesterday morning.
She said: ‘I thought someone had been hit by a car. There were two fellows going to church and they said: “There’s a dead body in the street”.’
Joe Dodd, who also lives near the scene, said he heard nothing during the night but awoke to find the street cordoned off by police.
He told London’s Evening Standard: ‘We were not allowed out of our house for ages. There were police and ambulances everywhere.
‘From where I was, it looked like he had a head injury of some kind. There was loads of blood everywhere, all over the street and on a car.’
A Metropolitan Police spokesman said: ‘We were called to reports of a dead body found in the road. He was pronounced dead at the scene.
‘We are still waiting on the postmortem results and an identification. One line of inquiry is that he was a possible stowaway on a plane.’
The Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race, which starts four miles away in Putney, has finished at Mortlake for every race but three since 1845.
The average property value in the area – which was once a riverside village and is now a popular location for commuters to live – is £732,000, and trains to London Waterloo take 25 minutes.