The Famous Image of 14-Year-Old-Boy Falling From the Wheel-Well of a Japan Airlines Flight Departing Sydney in 1970

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On February 24, 1970, Keith Sapsford, a 14-year-old boy from Australia, died when he fell 200 feet (60 meters) out of the wheel-well of a DC-8 owned by Japan Airlines as it took off from Sydney, Australia on a flight to Tokyo, Japan. Sapsford had apparently entered the plane’s wheel-well in an attempt to stowaway on the flight, but died only moments after takeoff when the angle of the wheel-well shifted as the plane ascended.

John Gilpin, an Australian photographer, was taking photos of planes taking off from that airport on the same day and inadvertently snapped a photo of Sapsford in mid-air as he was falling. Gilpin did not see this as he snapped the photo and instead only discovered this a week later after he got his film developed.

Keith Sapsford falling from the wheel-well of a plane in 1970. John Gilpin was testing out his camera when he accidentally caught the 14-year-old stowaway’s fall.

Keith’s father, CM Sapsford, remembers him as a boy full of life who wanted to see the world. He was very restless and had escaped many times from home to satiate his curiosity. The parents had decided to take a trip around the world to meet the child’s needs.

On their return, however, Keith had once again run away from home and the parents, not knowing what to do, relied on an organization that deals with troubled children in the hope that they might be able to calm him down.

Unfortunately this did not happen, and on February 21, 1970 Keith managed to escape, going to his death.

“All I wanted was for my son to see the world. His determination to see the rest of the world in which he lived cost him his life,” the father said.

How did it happen?

Keith was said to have run away on February 21th and the association reported him missing the next day. Then on February 24th he sneaked into Sydney airport, climbed on a plane’s wheel and entered the compartment that serves to store the wheel during the flight.

The technicians think that Keith was hiding there for a long time before takeoff. The boy remained hidden until the airplane took off, but after leaving the ground the aircraft got the wheels in.

It’s at this point that Keith fell from a height of about 60 meters, finding his death.

Doctors have however reported that he would have died regardless due to very low temperatures or lack of oxygen.

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