(CNN) – He had just come to Australia from Wales, but teenage boy Brian Robson quickly realized that he had made a huge mistake emigrating to the other side of the world.
Unfortunately, the homesick, 19-year-old didn’t have the money to cover the cost of abandoning the guided walkway immigration program he traveled with in 1964, as well as his return flight home.
After Cardiff’s Robson realized his options were pretty limited, he devised a plan to sneak himself onto a plane in a small box and return to the hold.
Now, over 50 years after the extremely risky journey that saw his picture spread across newspapers around the world, Robson hopes to track down his old friends John and Paul – two Irish people who nailed the box and sent him on his way.
“The last time I spoke to John and Paul was when one of them tapped the side of the box and said, ‘You OK,'” he told CNN Travel. “I said ‘yes’ and they said ‘good luck.’ I would like to see you again. ”
Think in the box
A Pan Am service agent examines the box that Brian Robson was found in in 1965.
Julian Wasser / Die LIFE picture collection / Getty Images
Shortly after his 19th birthday, he took a long flight around the world to start his new life in Melbourne, traveling through Tehran, New Delhi, Singapore, Jakarta and Sydney.
“It’s been a hell of a trip,” Robson admits. “But it was better than coming back.”
When he arrived in the Australian city, the Welshman discovered that the hostel assigned to him was “that rat infested hole”.
Even though he hadn’t even started his job, Robson decided there and then that he didn’t want to stay in Australia.
“Once I made up my mind, nothing would change that,” he adds. “I was absolutely convinced that I would come back [home]. “
He worked for the rail operator for about six or seven months before quitting both the job and the hostel.
Robson traveled the Australian outback for some time before returning to Melbourne and getting a job in a paper mill.
However, he never got used to life Down Under and was still determined to leave. But it was easy to repay the Australian government the fee for his overflight, and he had to raise the money for his flight home too.
“It was about 700 to 800 pounds (about $ 960 to $ 1,099),” he says. “But I was only making about £ 30 ($ 41) a week, so it was impossible.”
Robson was frustrated and decided to go to the hostel he originally stayed in to see if anything had changed. There he met John and Paul, who had recently arrived in Australia.
The trio quickly became friends and attended a trade show where they discovered a booth for Pickfords, a UK-based moving company.
“The sign said, ‘We can move anything anywhere.’ And I said, ‘Maybe they could move us.’ “
Although his remark was originally intended as a joke, Robson couldn’t get the thought out of his head.
The box escapes
The Welshman tries to track down the two Irish men who help him sneak into a box on board an airplane.
Tom King / Mirrorpix / Getty Images
The next day, he visited the Australian airline Qantas’ Melbourne office to find out how to send a box overseas. He noted the maximum size and weight as well as the required documents and whether the fee could be paid on delivery.
After gathering all the information he needed, he went back to the hostel and told John and Paul that he had found a way to solve his problem.
“They said, ‘Did you come with money or something?’” He explains. “I said, ‘No. I found a way to do it. I’m going to post myself. And Paul said,’ Wait a minute, I’m going out and buy the stamps. ‘”
According to Robson, when he fully explained his plan, Paul “thought I was stupid” but John “was a little looser”.
“So we talked about it for three days and in the end I had both of them on my side,” he says.
Robson then bought a wooden box measuring 30 x 26 x 38 inches and spent at least a month planning things with his two friends.
They made sure that both Robson and his suitcase had enough space that he was dying to bring with him.
He would also carry a pillow, flashlight, bottle of water, bottle of urine, and a tiny hammer to open the box once he reached London, his intended destination.
The trio then went on a “trial run” where Robson got into the box and the others sealed it, and had a truck pick up the box and take it to the nearby Melbourne airport.
The next morning Robson climbed into the wooden box again before John and Paul nailed it down and said goodbye to him. It would be five more days before he was released.
“The first 10 minutes were fine,” he says. “But your knees cramp when they get caught on your chest.”
The box was loaded onto an airplane a few hours after it reached the airport.
“Up until then I was really tight,” he says. “The plane took off and only then did I think of oxygen. These planes were not pressurized, so there was very little oxygen in the hold.”
The first part of his trip was a 90-minute flight from Melbourne to Sydney, which was incredibly tortuous.
But Robson’s traumatic ordeal was going to get much worse. When the box he was squeezed into arrived in Sydney, it was placed upside down on the asphalt.
“So now I’m sitting on my neck and head and been there upside down for 22 hours,” he explains.
Despite booking the box on a Qantas plane to London, that flight was full and it was moved to a Pan Am flight to Los Angeles, which would be a longer trip.
“That flight took about five days,” he explains. “The pain was unbearable. I couldn’t breathe properly. I drifted in and out of consciousness.”
Robson says he had extremely lively night terrors and couldn’t tell what was real and what was on his mind.
“I thought they were going to throw me off the plane,” he says. “I’ve gotten into damn good shape.”
He spent most of the time in the box in complete darkness, struggling to cope with the pain and confusion.
“At some point I thought I was going to die,” he said. “And I just thought, ‘Please, let it go quickly.'”
When the plane reached its final destination, he decided to work through the rest of his plan.
“The idea was to wait until late at night, knock the side of the box with the hammer that I had on me, and just go home,” he says. “It was so stupid.”
He was quickly spotted by two airport workers after throwing his torch on the bottom of the box.
Needless to say, the two who discovered the shining light from the box were stunned when they took a closer look and saw a man inside.
“The poor guy must have had a heart attack,” says Robson, who didn’t realize he was in America until he heard the workers’ accents.
“He kept screaming, there’s a body in there.” I couldn’t answer him. I could not speak. I could not move. “
The airport staff soon went to see their manager, but it took a while to convince someone that it wasn’t a practical joke.
After airport staff confirmed that the stowaway in the box was very much alive and not threatening to anyone, Robson took him to the hospital, where he recovered for at least six days.
By then, his story had been picked up by the media and reporters flocked to hear the story of the man in the box.
Although Robson was technically illegal in the US, no charges have been brought against him.
Authorities simply returned him to Pan Am, who arranged for the 19-year-old to be flown back to London in a prime seat.
He was greeted by television cameras when he finally returned to the UK’s London Airport on May 18, 1965.
“My family was happy to see me, but they weren’t happy about what I had done,” he admits.
When he was back in Wales with his parents, Robson wanted to leave the whole experience behind.
Hope to see you again
Robson spent about 96 hours in the wooden box before he was found in Los Angeles after landing.
Tom King / Mirrorpix / Getty Images
But the notoriety of his now infamous journey meant he would become a recognizable face, and the attention proved overwhelming.
Robson says he still feels haunted by the time he spent in that box and is having a hard time talking about it all these years later.
“It’s a part of my life that I honestly would like to forget, but in practice I could never forget it,” he says. “It’s just built into me.
“I mean, you’re trying to stay in a box for so long and see if you can forget it. I think it would have been easier in a coffin because you could at least stretch your legs.”
However, the incident also brought a number of positive things into his life. Robson has written an upcoming book called “The Crate Escape,” which details the journey, and its story is also being developed into a film.
Although he wrote to John and Paul shortly after returning to Wales in 1965, he is not sure if they ever received the letters.
But he heard through the grapevine that they may have “made a runner” when his story first caught media attention.
It has only recently occurred to Robson that his dear friends may have been prosecuted if he hadn’t survived the trip.
“I apologize for putting her in this position,” he says. “But in fairness it was a joint effort. You had a contribution to it. But I feel a little guilty.”
Although he won’t go into specific details, the 76-year-old says he has received encouraging news about the couple in the past few weeks and hopes he is on the verge of finding them.
For Robson, reuniting with John and Paul would be a fitting way to round out the saga that he couldn’t escape his entire life.
And while he has lived and traveled to different countries over the years, he has never been to Australia again. However, there is at least one circumstance that Robson would be willing to return for.
“The other day an Australian reporter asked me if I would consider going back,” he says. “I said, ‘Only when someone pays my expenses and it’s for goodbye [with John and Paul]. Other than that, no thanks. ‘”