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The Man Who Fell to Earth: Plane plummet plod probe phone

SIM chip IDs stowaway who completely went to pieces

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The man who spread himself across a street in Mortlake, London, after falling from an aircraft undercarriage has been identified. Police finally managed to crack open the SIM in his pocket and study it to discover who he was.

Jose Matada was the chap's name and he was 30 years old, the BBC tells us. He landed on Portman Avenue with a "massive bang" at 7.42am on 8 September last year, but the impact of the fall made identifying him a huge challenge.

An aeroplane from Angola was coming into Heathrow at the time, and would have dropped its landing gear at roughly the right moment to place the bloke on that street. But despite creating a photofit of his face and circulating copies of his tattoos, it was the SIM that finally gave investigating officers a name.

The chip was inside a phone, but that was obliterated along with the man's other identifying features after the fall from several hundred feet. The SIM was locked with a PIN, which explains why it has taken seven months to get the data off it - particularly since it turns out Matada was from Mozambique.

The police realised the SIM was important very early; officers are well-briefed on the value of mobile technology these days, but a SIM secured with a PIN is still tough to read. A handful of wrong entries and it locks itself down and refuses to communicate until the owning-operator's PUK (PIN Unlock Key) is entered, which one can only get if one knows the owning operator.

Given the presence of the Angolan flight - and of Angolan currency in the man's pocket - officers had assumed the unlucky man was from that country, and so presumably contacted local operators while reconstructing his face and photographing those tattoos. Most SIMs have a serial number written on the outside, from which one can identify the manufacturer, which would then be able to provide the name of the operator. We don't know if the number was legible, but if it wasn't that would explain the seven-month delay.

We are told that detectives called the phone numbers stored on the SIM but are still trying to contact his next of kin, so he probably didn't have much of an address book on the SIM - leaving only a list of the last few numbers dialled which all SIMs store by default.

Now that the body has a name, an inquest has been opened, but despite the stowaway originating in Mozambique rather than Angola, the story is a sadly familiar one: a desperate 30-year-old without a thorough grounding in relative air pressures and modern-day aircraft cabin design thought he could get to a better life in the UK.

Instead, the poor bloke ended up smeared across a West London street - leaving nothing but the last few numbers he dialled stored in a chip small enough to survive the impact. ®

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