Child survivor of Yemenia air crash found in Indian Ocean
Published 30/06/2009 | 12:32
A 14-year-old girl plucked alive from the waters of the Indian Ocean is thought to be the only survivor of the second plane disaster to hit France in a month.
The girl was one of 153 people on board an Airbus 310 aircraft which ditched in the sea ten miles off the coast of the Comoros Islands after a botched initial attempt at landing.
The islands' government sent rescue speedboats to the point where the plane disappeared from air traffic control radar screens in the early hours of the morning.
They and nearby fishermen found debris, bodies and personal items including handbags floating in the water.
They also came across the girl, who they said was "very tired". Arfachad Salim, a rescue coordinator for the Comoros Red Crescent, said she had been taken ashore and was being treated in hospital in the Comoros' capital Moroni.
Comoros Communications Minister Abdourahim Said Bakar said earlier reports that the rescued child was five were wrong.
"A doctor from the military hospital aboard one of the rescue boats called the Mitsamiouli hospital to tell them a child had been rescued alive," Halidi Ahmed Abdou, a doctor at a medical centre opened for survivors.
Ibrahim Abdourazak, an official at a crisis centre in Comoros, said the 14-year-old girl was from a village in the centre of the Indian Ocean archipelago.
The French authorities said 66 of those on board were French nationals, out of 142 passengers. The crew were a mixture of Yemenis, Filipinos and other nationalities.
It is almost exactly a month since an Air France Airbus 330-200 crashed into the Atlantic Ocean while on a flight from Rio de Janeiro in Brazil to Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport.
The disaster will renew the focus on Airbus's safety record, while the revelation that the plane involved had been banned from European air space for two years prompted calls for EU standards to be set globally.
In the latest disaster, Yemenia Air flight IY 626 had left on Monday, also from Charles De Gaulle Airport, for Sana'a in Yemen via Marseille. In Sana'a, passengers had changed plane and been joined by others for the rest of the flight to the Comoros by way of Djibouti.
Most of the passengers, including the French nationals, are believed to be residents originally from the islands who were returning home for the summer holidays at the end of the school year.
The largest Comoran community in France is in Marseille.
Passenger lists showed that numerous families, including three babies, were on board.
Witnesses at the airport in Moroni, Grand Comore's capital, said they saw the plane coming into land but it veered away and turned as if to make a second approach.
It then disappeared from radar screens.
"I saw the plane approach and then go away again," said Houmed Msaidie, the Comoros' former defence minister, who had gone to the airport to meet his mother-in-law. "I just could not understand it."
Mohamed Yahya, former director of Comoros civil aviation department, who was also present, said the engines sounded in difficulty. "It looked to me as though the plane was having difficulties landing," he said.
Initial blame was put on bad weather, with air officials in the Comoros Islands reporting strong winds of 25 knots, gusting to 35 knots - 30-40mph.
However, French and EU authorities confirmed that the plane, which had been flying since 1990, had been banned from European airspace because of a series of faults found in 2007.
A group had been set up by Comorans living in Marseille to complain about standards of service on the flight, their main connection with home.
Farid Soilihi, a spokesman for "SOS Voyage aux Comores", or SOS Travel to Comoros, said passengers were treated "like cattle", and had staged a protest last year.
The three Comoros Islands are an archipelago off the coast of East Africa between Madagascar and Mozambique. They were previously a French colony, and another member of the group, Mayotte, remains a French territory.
Two French fighter jets based in Mayotte and another of the country's Indian Ocean territories, Reunion, joined the search, and a frigate, Nivose, patrol boat, Rieuse, and transport aircraft carrying divers and medical teams were also dispatched.
A crisis unit has been set up at Charles de Gaulle airport, and another in Marseille. President Nicolas Sarkozy said he expressed his deep emotion" at the loss of life.
The Comorros consul for the south of France, Stephane Salord, said: "There is considerable dismay. These are families that, each year on the eve of summer, leave Marseille and the region to rejoin their families in the Comoros and spend their holidays."
Yemen, which occupies the southernmost part of the Arabian peninsula, is troubled by Islamist, sectarian and tribal violence, and the authorities are still looking for a Briton and and a German family of five kidnapped there earlier this month.
However, there are no suspicions of terrorist involvement on this occasion.