Deportee asked for help on flight before dying, witness says
Questions over how quickly Jimmy Mubenga received medical help after collapsing under three security guards on BA flight
Paul Lewis and Matthew Taylor
guardian.co.uk, Friday 15 October 2010 11.47 BST
Jimmy Mubenga was asking passengers for help moments before he collapsed and died under three security guards, a witness said. Photograph: Guardian
An asylum seeker who was being deported on a flight from Heathrow begged passengers to help him moments before he collapsed and died beneath three security guards, according to a new witness who has spoken to the Guardian.
The witness – the third to come forward in the last 24 hours – raised questions over how quickly Jimmy Mubenga was given medical assistance after he lost consciousness on the flight to Angola.
He said he was haunted by Mubenga’s pleas for help.
“For the rest of the my life I’m always going to have that at the back of my mind – could I have done something? That is going to bother me every time I go to sleep,” the witness, an oil worker who gave his name as Michael, said.
“I didn’t get involved because I was scared I would get kicked off the flight and lose my job. But that man paid a higher price than I would have.”
Witness called Michael: ‘The last thing we heard him say was he couldn’t breathe’ Link to this audio
The 51-year-old US citizen contacted a Guardian reporter via Twitter today after reading what he believed to be misleading accounts of Mubenga’s death released by the Home Office and G4S, a private security firm the government has contracted to escort deportees.
Police are investigating the death of Mubenga, a 46-year-old Angolan who lost consciousness when three G4S guards attempted to restrain him on British Airways Flight 77 flight on Tuesday night. He was later taken to hospital where he was pronounced dead. No arrests have been made.
On Thursday, two passengers told the Guardian that guards placed Mubenga in handcuffs and heavily restrained him while the aircraft was still on the runway. One said Mubenga complained of breathing problems before passing out.
Michael said he heard Mubenga complain he was unable to breathe.
“I’m pretty sure it will turn out to be asphyxiation,” he said. “The last thing we heard the man say was he couldn’t breathe. We had three security guards and each one of them looked like they weighed 100kg plus, bearing down and holding him down – from what I could see below the seats.”
Michael described as “completely false” the official accounts of Mubenga’s death, released by the Home Office and G4S on Wednesday.
The Home Office said a deportee had “taken ill” while on the flight. G4S used similar wording, saying Mubenga “became unwell”, forcing the flight to return to Heathrow. “Sadly, the detainee passed away upon arrival at the hospital,” the statement said.
Michael said he became aware that a man was in distress as soon as he boarded the plane.
“The first thing I saw was the stewardesses running forward. One of them was almost in spasms she was shaking that bad … I saw three men trying to pull [Mubenga] down below the seats. All I could see was his head sticking up above the seats and he was hollering out: ‘Help me’.
“He just kept saying ‘Help me, help me’. Then he disappeared below the seats. You could see the three security guards sitting on top of him from there. And then it went kind of quiet.”
There are differing accounts as to how long Mubenga was restrained. The two previous witnesses estimated he was restrained for 10 minutes and 45 minutes respectively.
Michael, who said he was sitting less than 6 metres (20ft) from Mubenga, said he watched the security guards on top of him for around five minutes, but then looked away as the plane taxied on to the runway. The flight was later aborted.
“What I am trying to understand is: if the man was putting up such a fuss and a fight that it took three burly security guards to hold him down, why didn’t they take him off the plane?” Michael said.
“Obviously if I was putting a commotion up and I wasn’t a deportee they would take me off the plane, because they would call me a threat to the flight.”
He criticised BA for not giving passengers the choice over whether they wanted to fly on a deportation flight. Airlines in the UK are required by law to carry deportees.
“I’m not sure [Mubenga] even got any medical attention until he got back to the terminal,” Michael said. “I didn’t hear anything over the PA: ‘Is there a doctor on board, is there a medic on board?’
“I’m not sure he got any attention from anybody until the medics got there and that was 15, 20 minutes after everything went quiet. Maybe somebody could have revived him if they had been asked. I can give CPR – I’ve been trained in it.”
An engineer who works Angola’s rich oil fields alongside other western expatriates, Michael said Mubenga’s death spoke to hypocrisy in global border control. “You have got a man deported from over there. Did you ever stop to think how many British are over here, making £400 or £500 a day in Angola?