A British Airways 747 plane flies come into land at Heathrow airport in west London. Photograph: Justin Tallis/AFP/Getty Images
Heathrow stowaway who fell to death identified asMozambican migrant. Orphanage in Mozambique describes Carlito Vale, who is believed to have hidden in a plane’s wheel well for an 8,000-mile flight from Johannesburg, as a man who ‘lived for the day
Carlito Vale, who died after apparently falling from a BA flight in June 2015, pictured with his wife. Photograph: Facebook
By Ben Quinn
Smiling pleasantly, with an arm around his partner, there’s little sign of yearning on the part of the young man in the picture, save perhaps for the T-shirt emblazoned with the word London.
However, for Carlito Vale, a young Mozambican immigrant whose initial venturings abroad would take him to Uganda and South Africa, London would come to be associated with tragedy.
Six months after a body was found on a roof below the Heathrow flight path, he can now be identified as the person who officials believe fell from the undercarriage of a British Airways flight as it was about to land after its 8,000-mile journey from Johannesburg.
While Vale has yet to be officially named, authorities have made contact with an orphanage in Mozambique’s second city of Beira as part of efforts to confirm that he was the man who died. The Guardian was contacted by the orphanage, which does not wish to be named because its founders wanted to trace those who had left flowers at the scene near Heathrow last June.
While Vale’s motivation for his desperate gamble of stowing away on the flight will perhaps remain unknown, his story is one that echoes that of millions of other migrants. At its core is the simple dream of a better life elsewhere.
Affected by poverty, Aids, and the legacy of a 15-year-long civil war, Beira is a world away from the affluent streets of west London. Although not one of London’s most prosperous areas, male life expectancy in the borough around Heathrow is still 78.9 years – 25 years more than the average in Mozambique.
Born in around 1985 – the year is estimated by those at the orphanage in Beira, which took him in as a child – Vale was one of the tens of thousands of children displaced by the war.
The center is home to 30 boys aged between nine and 18, teaching them practical skills such as building and construction. Not all the children are orphans: Vale’s mother is alive but is said to have struggled with mental illness.
“We built a house for her, but she preferred to stay on the street. She disappeared for years on end,” said the founder of the orphanage. “Carlito moved into the house when he left the center when he was about 18. His mum had become more stable by then, too.”
Carlito Vale pictured with his mother.
“He lived for the day. That was his world.”
That world broadened in 2001 when a teenaged Vale and his brother were among the first children from the center to be taken on a visit to the US. It appears that this trip whetted his appetite for life beyond Mozambique and, some years later, he joined the growing number of his fellow countrymen and women seeking a better existence elsewhere.
The orphanage said it began to lose track of Vale when he went to South Africa as a young man. “He would go for a year and then come back. By then, he had a child with his partner. Then I heard from him a couple of years later when he traveled up to Uganda.”
In Uganda, however, Vale was detained by the authorities in circumstances that remain unclear. The orphanage founder said: “I don’t know how he entered, if he went through the proper procedures and then just got caught, or if he went the back roads. But he got caught without a visa or with an expired visa. We just didn’t have money to help, because flying in Africa can be very expensive and the only way they would have released him was if we had bought him a ticket to Mozambique from Uganda.”
The next time his former carers in Beira heard about him was three years later when they were told of his death. Authorities in the US and South Africa got in touch as part of attempts to verify the identity of the man whose remains were found in west London. One link, the Guardian has been told, is documentation that was found at Johannesburg airport.
Vale was seeking to get to Europe and had been corresponding by email with João Mapengue, another boy who grew up in the Beira refuge and who now lives in the Netherlands. Mapengue described Vale as “a lovely young man” who he had looked up to and who had inspired him in many ways.
“I remember that he was one of the first boys at [the orphanage] that had the privilege to go to the United States and, of course, we were all jealous,”
“He was also the first boy that started writing letters or emails in English. That inspired me. One of the major things I learned from him was reading the Bible. He was dedicated to discovering, reaching out and wanted to learn more.”
The last telephone conversation Mapengue had with Vale was two years ago when he was asking about how to get to Amsterdam.
“He asked me for all the details and information on how to get here. The only thing I told him was to get in contact with the embassy. That was the only way to come to this side legally,” he said. “He didn’t sound desperate, he was looking for a legal way to come. But in the midst of all the requirements, he might have given up.”
It now appears Vale did give up, switching his attentions to somehow stowing away on a flight from Johannesburg to the UK. It was to be a fatal decision.
While it is possible he could have survived the freezing temperatures outside the plane’s sealed cabin during its 11-hour flight, which could have plunged as low as -50C (-58F), Vale had no chance when the wheel wells of the BA plane opened and sent him plummeting to the ground.
Flight data reveals the plane was at an altitude of around 1,400ft (427m) when it passed over the area where the body was found.
Incredibly, another stowaway on the same flight was found alive in the plane’s undercarriage on the morning of 18 June. The body believed to be that of Vale was discovered an hour later on the roof of an office block used by the online shopping company Notonthehighstreet.com.
Initially, in a critical condition in hospital, this survivor is being cared for “in the community” and the Metropolitan police are still trying to establish his identity. Meanwhile, Vale’s body remains in the UK, where an inquest was opened and adjourned while attempts are made to officially confirm his identity.
Back in Vale’s childhood home, those who brought him up to say they would like to thank Charles Campbell, 59, a carpenter from Ealing who left a bunch of yellow flowers at the scene of where Vale’s remains were found shortly before Fathers’ Day.
Vale has also not been ignored by the congregation at St John the Divine, a church across the road from where the body was found. The Rev Neil Summers, who led prayers at the time the body was found, said that Vale and his family had been in the congregation’s thoughts.
“He was someone who died so far away from home and it was a the time when there was a lot of awareness about the migrants crossing the Mediterranean in small boats, so it was very much part of the story of people who take many risks to either preserve their life or seek a better one,” he said.
Summers said Vale’s identification would be “vitally important” to his family, as well as anyone who had been affected in a personal sense by the death.
“People need to be able to answer questions. If you have the answers it goes some way at least towards being able to reconcile what has happened.”