A bruised teenage girl, who is the only known survivor of a Yemeni jet crash, clung to wreckage for more than 13 hours before rescuers found her floating in the Indian Ocean, a French official said Wednesday. Rumors that a second child had been plucked from the waters off Comoros were denied and though navy ships and divers from France and the United States joined the search, hopes faded that any more of the 142 passengers and 11 crew from the Yemenia airline jet would be found alive.
French officials said one of the plane's black boxes had been found, which could provide clues into the cause of the crash off the coast of this former French colony. The Yemenia Airbus 310 jet was carrying 153 people to island nation of Comoros when it crashed into the sea early Tuesday as it attempted to land in the dark amid howling winds.
The timid 13-year-old girl, Bahia Bakari, recovered in hospital in Moroni, having been told that her missing mother was being treated in an adjoining room. She was conscious with bruises on her face and a gauze bandage on her elbow.
"It is a true miracle. She is a courageous young girl," Alain Joyandet, France's minister for international cooperation, said at the hospital. "She held onto a piece of the plane from 1:30 a.m to 3:00 p.m." He said she was strong enough to signal a passing boat, which rescued her. "She really showed an absolutely incredible physical and moral strength," he said. Joyandet said the girl would be flown back to France on Wednesday night and put in a Paris hospital upon arrival. "She is physically out of danger, she is evidently very traumatized," he said.
Bahia's father, Kassim Bakari, told Agence France-Presse at their home in Corbeil Essonnes south of Paris that his daughter suffered a fractured collarbone and burns to her knee, but no life-threatening injuries.
"She didn't feel a thing. She found herself in water," Bakari said. "She could hear people talking, but in the middle of the night she couldn't see a thing. She managed to hold on to a piece of something."
The head of the government crisis cell in the Comoros said the teenager survived astonishing odds. "It is truly, truly, miraculous," said Ibrahim Abdoulazeb. "The young girl can barely swim." Amid mounting anger over the condition of the Yemenia airline jet that crashed early Tuesday, a desperate hunt for other survivors resumed and the French government said the signal from one of the A310's black boxes had been detected.
Gen. Bruno de Bourdoncle de Saint-Salvy, the senior commander for French forces in the southern Indian Ocean, said the Airbus 310 crashed in deep water nine miles (14.4 kilometers) north of the Comoran coast and 21 miles (34 kilometers) from the Moroni airport. "The search is continuing," Joyandet was quoted by the Associated Press as saying. "No other survivors have been found for the moment."
The A310 aborted one landing and was making a second attempt when it crashed, officials said. French authorities have said the 19-year-old jet had been banned from France's airspace because of safety doubts.
French Transport Minister Dominique Bussereau said French inspectors had in 2007 found numerous faults on the plane and that the airline, founded in 1961, was being closely monitored by EU authorities. European Union Transport Commissioner Antonio Tajani said the airline had previously met EU safety checks but would now face a full investigation amid questions why passengers were put on another jet in the Yemeni capital of San’a. The tragedy also prompted an outcry in Comoros, where residents have long complained of a lack of seat belts on Yemenia flights and planes so overcrowded that passengers had to stand in the aisles.
"We had been sounding the alarm bells, both here and in the Comoros," said Moegni Toahiry, as he stood outside his Comoran consulate hoping for news of his cousin and three children who were on flight. Some Comorans staged a protest at Paris Charles de Gaulle airport on Wednesday delaying a Yemenia flight for 40 minutes to highlight what they called poor safety conditions on the planes. But, the vice president of Comoros criticized French officials for not informing his nation of suspected problems.