The incredible story behind the photo of a boy falling out of a plane


A picture from 49 years ago shows the harrowing moment when a teenage stowaway fell out and plummeted to his death.


The boy in the picture was Keith Sapsford, from Sydney, Australia. He was only 14 at the time in 1970. He had climbed into the plane’s wheel-well in order to “see how the rest of the world lives”.

The plane he was stowing away on was a flight that was bound for Japan. When the compartment opened mid-air, the teenager fell out above Sydney Kingsford Smith Airport, falling 200 feet.

According to The MailOnline, the shot was captured 49 years ago this week by John Gilpin, an amateur photographer who happened to be taking pictures of the planes while they were taking off. Mr. Gilpin was completely that he had captured the boy’s final moments until he went and developed the pictures the next week.

Keith’s family had just returned from a round-the-world trip, which many believed was what sparked his thirst for travel.

On the 23rd of February 1970, the Associated Press reported that Charles Sapford, Keith’s father, had said, “All my son wanted to do was to see the world. He had itchy feet. His determination to see how the rest of the world lives has cost him his life.”

After returning home from the family trip, Keith had an “urge to keep on the move” and was growing restless in his hometown of Randwick, New South Wales.

As a result, Charles Sapford made the decision to send Keith to a Roman Catholic Institution in Sydney to “straighten him out”, but the teen just kept running away.

After only two weeks at the institution, he made the journey to Sydney Airport where he managed to get onto the runway undetected, and climbed into the wheel-well of a plane belonging to Japan Air Lines, which had a destination of Tokyo.

Technicians later believed the teen – who was dressed in only shorts and a short-sleeved shirt – was unaware that the latch to the compartment would reopen after take-off in order to bring the wheel back inside. When this happened that is when he fell out.

According to doctors, they believe that Keith would have most likely died on the flight even if he hadn’t fallen out because the altitude would have produced freezing temperatures and a lack of oxygen.

Tragically, Charles Sapsford had previously spoken to Keith about a Spanish boy who died hiding inside the undercarriage of a plane just months prior to the accident. 



log in

Become a part of our community!

reset password

Back to
log in