HELL SIX MILES HIGH; Stowaway's terror as he clung on to jet's wheels.
In the comfort of the Boeing 747's cabin, drinks were being served while passengers chatted and settled back for the long haul from India to London's Heathrow airport.
A few feet below them, in the icy hell of the giant plane's wheel bay, stowaways Pardeep Saini and his brother Vijay were fighting for their lives.
Pardeep, a 23-year-old mechanic, survived temperatures of minus 60C and winds six times stronger than a hurricane as the British Airways jet cruised at 35,000 feet.
Tragically, his 19-year-old brother froze to death during the 10-hour flight, falling 2,000ft to the ground as the jet prepared to land at Heathrow last October.
Vijay's broken body was discovered five days later in a disused gasworks in Richmond, Surrey.
Yesterday, Pardeep spoke for the first time of his nightmare journey in the undercarriage of a British Airways jumbo.
He has spent the last 10 months struggling to recover from one of the most incredible journeys of modern times - and fighting to stay in Britain.
Speaking at his uncle's home in Southall, West London, Pardeep described how he and Vijay crept on to the Delhi runway under cover of darkness and stole into the underbelly of the jumbo moments before take-off.
"We headed for the first plane we could see," he said. "We waited for the workers to go, and then Vijay went in and I went in after him. Once inside the undercarriage, Vijay began looking for the door in to the baggage hold, but before we knew it, the plane started to move.
"We were very frightened. We began to shout and scream.
"We just froze to the spot in the corner of the undercarriage. We were crushed to one side."
As the plane soared into the night sky, heading north towards the Himalayas, a freezing wind ripped through the rattling wheel house.
"The noise was terrible," said Pardeep. "As the wheels came up they were glowing hot. They were burning us.
"The wheel house was shaking. It was like an earthquake. My whole body started feeling numb."
The screaming, terrified brothers were pinned into opposite corners of the wheel house.
Unable to see or hear each other, there was no chance to say goodbye.
"Minutes after take-off I passed out," said Pardeep.
"My next memory is of being in the detention centre in Britain where I was told my brother was dead."
Pardeep says he and his brother were forced to leave India after they were accused of having links with Sikh militants fighting for a separate Sikh homeland. They had fled their homes in the Punjab after twice being arrested and found a man in Delhi who said he would help them.
For pounds 150, he said, he would show them an easy way out of the country.
"He told us we could get into the baggage hold of an aeroplane from the wheel bay and we would be all right," said Pardeep.
But it was a lie. There IS no passage from the wheel bay.
Instead the brothers, dressed in thin cotton tops and light jackets, were crushed against the Boeing's massive wheels, and defenceless against the elements.
Pardeep believes his brother died quickly, probably before the first drinks were served to the passengers a few feet above them.
As morning came and the jet descended over Britain, Captain Michael Post lowered the aircraft's 18 massive wheels.
Vijay's body plummeted to the earth, but Pardeep, unconscious against the wall of the wheel house, was still alive.
Hours after the plane touched down he was confronted by astonished ground staff as he staggered across the tarmac.
Barely able to speak, he was rushed to hospital with severe hypothermia.
Nobody had ever survived stowing away for so long on a jet cruising 10,000ft higher than Everest, where there is virtually no oxygen and the cold is deadly.
Captain Post later wrote to Pardeep, congratulating him on his "near- miraculous survival". He added: "I hope that in the future I may have the pleasure of carrying you as a legitimate passenger on the INSIDE of the aeroplane."
Doctors believe that Pardeep went into a state of suspended animation.
With the outside temperature dropping to minus 60C - low enough to freeze exposed flesh solid - his body temperature rapidly fell from 37C to around 33C, at which point he would have lost consciousness.
His breathing and heart rate slowed to a level which would have killed other men. The lack of oxygen should have led to brain damage. Nasa scientists have invited Pardeep to America, to study his body - but 10 months on, Pardeep is in no state to travel.
He still has difficulty speaking.
He has violent nightmares, in which he calls out his dead brother's name.
He has pains in his joints and ears, believed to have been caused by the freezing temperatures, and is being treated with anti-depressant medication. His father recently died and he remains deeply upset about his brother's death.
But Pardeep's amazing story, and its tragic consequences, failed to move an immigration tribunal.
Last week he was told his application for political asylum had been refused.
Now his only hope is that ministers will allow him to stay in Britain on compassionate grounds.
Yesterday Piara Khabra, Labour MP for Ealing Southall, told The Mirror: "This young man took a terrible risk and miscalculated. He just survived, but he lost his brother. I am convinced he should be allowed to stay in this country on compassionate grounds."
Pardeep's uncle Tarsem Singh Bola, who has promised he will not allow the stowaway to become a burden on the state, said: "Some people say he is the luckiest man alive.
"Some days he feels lucky, but then he realises the agony that luck has brought.
"It is then that he feels he might as well have died with Vijay."
Voice of The Mirror: Page 6
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|Publication:||The Mirror (London, England)|
|Date:||Aug 21, 1997|
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