Mysterious case of the man who fell from the sky on a Sunday morning

Police believe he was from Africa, probably from Angola, but they don’t know his identity.

The mystery began in September when residents of a suburban street in the Mortlake neighbourhood of west London woke up on a quiet Sunday morning to find the crumpled body of a black man on the path of Portman Avenue, near a supermarket, an upscale lingerie shop, and a storefront offering Chinese medical cures.

Detectives believed at first the man was a murder victim and cordoned off the area. Within a day, however, police concluded the man — probably already dead — had fallen to the ground when a jet passing overhead lowered its landing gear as it neared the runway at nearby Heathrow Airport.

The apparent stowaway had no identification papers — just some currency from Angola, leading police to surmise that he was from that African nation, especially as inquiries showed that a plane from Angola was beginning its descent into Heathrow at about that time.

The macabre explanation made perfect sense to residents, who are familiar not only with the roar of the jets descending, but are also able to see the planes lower their landing gears as they pass overhead, said Catherine Lambert, who lives a few doors down from the spot where the man landed.

“You could see him, his body was contorted,” she said. “It was a beautiful blue day, really sunny, but we had to keep the children inside. I didn’t want the children to see, and to have to explain to them and put fear into them every time a plane goes over.”

An autopsy conducted two days after the body landed listed the cause of death as “multiple injuries”.

Lambert, 41, said there is lingering sadness, since the man has not been identified and there has been no way to tell his family he is gone.

“I felt, what was he running away from? What made him think he could he could? And how will his family ever know? He’s a lost soul now; his father and mother are probably waiting for him to make contact,” she said.

Police are appealing to the public for help identifying the man based on a composite image of his face and a photo of a tattoo on his left arm.

Aviation safety specialist Chris Yates said most stowaway attempts fail. “They so often end in fatality because more often than not stowaways climb into the wheel base or cargo hold, and those areas are not necessarily pressurised,” he said.

“When you start moving beyond 10,000 feet, oxygen starvation becomes a reality. As you climb up to altitude, the issue becomes cold as well, the temperature drops to minus 40 or minus 50 degrees centigrade, so survival rates drop.”


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