Leg falls from African flight onto L.I. garage
BY AUSTIN FENNER and LAURA WILLIAMS
DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITERS
A man's severed leg - with a white Adidas sneaker still attached - plummeted from the sky onto a garage roof and bounced into the backyard of a Long Island home yesterday morning.
Pam Hearne heard "a very loud bang" outside her family's South Floral Park house at 7a.m., but thought little of it and went to work.
It wasn't until she got back home at 10:30 a.m. that she noticed something bizarre out her window.
"There was a human body part back there," she said. "It was rather large."
The leg, hip and chunk of torso apparently fell from the wheel well of a South African jetliner about to land at Kennedy Airport.
When Hearne first saw the leg in the grass, it didn't look real. But authorities assured the special education teacher it wasn't a "cruel joke."
"It was very blackened, as if it had been charred," she said.
The victim, apparently a stowaway, likely crawled into the wheel well of the South African Airways jet in Dakar, Senegal, authorities said.
After taking off from Dakar at 11:40 p.m. New York time, the pilot felt some unusual vibrations. But a diagnostic check turned up nothing unusual, and the flight continued to Queens, said Nassau Police Detective Lt. Kevin Smith.
A customs inspector discovered more human remains - including another leg - in the wheel well after the jet landed, said Port Authority spokesman Tony Ciavolella.
"The body was badly battered, the clothing shredded," Smith said. "And the plane was battered from the body parts."
Floral Park is about 5-1/2 miles from Kennedy - just the spot where a pilot would likely lower the landing gear.
The cause of death was under investigation, pending a medical examiner's report, Ciavolella said.
There have been several cases of airplane stowaways being killed by the extreme cold at high altitude or crushed to death inside aircraft wheel wells.
The landing gear rotates inward as the wheels retract and outward for landing. It was unclear how far the leg fell but the impact dented the shingled roof of the garage.
"I guess it was some poor soul who dreamed to look for his freedom," Hearne said. "I'm hoping he wasn't in much pain."
"He took a chance and he lost," said Anthony Coetzee, 43, of South Africa, who was waiting for a flight home yesterday.
The South African Airways flight to Johannesburg was canceled yesterday.
A letter distributed to passengers by the airline made no mention of the body. It simply said that the jet needed to be repaired because of "some damage to the fuselage."