Amateur Photographer Manages to Capture the Moment a Stowaway’s Final Moments When He Fell Out of the Wheel Well of a Plane



Keith Sapsford, from Sydney, Australia, was a wanderer, always restless, always on the move. When he was 14, his parents sent him to Boys Town, a Catholic home for teenagers, but after a couple of weeks there, Keith ran away. Just a few months earlier, Keith's dad, a university professor of mechanical and industrial engineering, told him the tragic story of a boy in Spain who died hiding in the undercarriage of an aircraft. He explained the dangers of exposure to high altitude and the moving parts of the plane, but Keith's mind was set. On February 22, 1970, three days after running away, Keith made his way onto the tarmac at Sydney Airport, climbed up in the wheel well of a Douglas DC-8 bound for Tokyo, and waited until the plane took off. At the same time, unaware of the tragedy that was about to unfold before him, amateur photographer John Gilpin was taking photos at the airport. He accidentally captured the precise moment Keith fell about 150 feet from the plane as it took off. However, Gilpin wasn't even aware of the tragedy while it was happening. It wasn't until a week later, when he was developing his photos, that he saw the figure of a boy falling from the plane, feet-first, with his hands up near his head. Keith died from falling when the door to the plane's wheel well opened. Police determined that he didn't realize the compartment would open when the airborne plane's wheels retracted. One in four plane stowaways survive the perilous journey, but successful cases typically involve very short journeys when the plane is flying at lower than usual cruising altitude. Between 1947 and 2012, there were 96 known stowaway attempts in wheel compartments of 85 flights, and of those stowaways, 73 died.