12 May 2010

How did a boy of ten survive Libyan plane crash horror that killed 103, including at least one Briton?

A boy of ten was the sole survivor after a plane exploded as it came into land yesterday, killing 103 people on board.

Incredibly he was flung clear as the plane disintegrated just a metre from touchdown.

The Dutch boy was picked from the wreckage of the Libyan-owned Airbus A330-200 at Tripoli airport and was last night having surgery for multiple breaks to his legs at a local hospital.

He is thought to be only the 14th sole survivor of a major plane crash.

Miracle survivor: The unnamed Dutch boy who was flung to safety by  the explosion as the flight disintegrated in Tripoli today

Miracle survivor: The unnamed Dutch boy who was flung to safety by the explosion as the flight disintegrated in Tripoli today

The boy - the only one to survive the crash - is tended to by a  nurse in the Tripoli hospital yesterday

The boy - the only one to survive the crash - is tended to by a nurse in the Tripoli hospital yesterday

dutch boy
dutch boy

Lucky escape: The boy is expected to survive with minor injuries including broken bones

His parents and at least one Briton are thought to be among those who died when the Afriqiyah Airways Flight 771 from Johannesburg, South Africa, exploded as it came in to land at the Libyan capital.

The pilot was said to have warned air traffic controllers of a problem as he approached the capital's airport.

Seven of the passengers on the flight were due to fly on to Gatwick Airport after a stopover in Libya and Foreign Office officials were checking on the nationalities of those on board.

Dutch officials said 61 of the dead were from Holland.

Explosion: The debris of the Afiqiyah Airways plane crash, which a  ten-year-old boy miraculously survived

Explosion: The debris of the Afiqiyah Airways plane crash, which a ten-year-old boy miraculously survived

Enlarge Explosion: The plane is believed to have exploded on impact and  disintegrated, killing all but one of those on board

'It disintegrated': Police and rescue workers stand among the mangled remains of Al Afriqiyah Flight 8U771, which crashed on landing at Tripoli airport yesterday

Crash horror: Rescue teams search the site of the Libyan Afriqiyah  Airways plane crash in Tripoli, Libya this morning. The tail of the  Airbus 330 has been torn from the plane's fuselage

Horror: All of the 104 on board died in the crash, except a 10-year-old boy was thrown clear as the plane

Germans, Libyans, South Africans and French were feared among the other victims.

Last night police and rescue workers worked to gather evidence and bodies from the field of debris, which included a large tail section bearing Afriqiyah's brightly coloured logo.

MIRACLE SURVIVORS

The miracle boy in Libya is thought to be only the world's 14th sole survivor of a major plane crash.

Six were children and four were flight crew.

Some of the others include:

June 29, 2009: Yemenia Flight 626. French schoolgirl Bahia Bakari, 13, survived when Airbus A310 crashed into the Indian Ocean, killing all other 152 people on board. Rescued after 13 hours clinging to aircraft wreckage.

March 6, 2003: Air Algeria Flight 6289. Youcef Djillali, a 28-year-old soldier lived after flight crashed on take-off in the southern Algerian city of Tamanrasset, killing 102 passengers and crew.

March 17, 1995: Intercontinental Airlines Flight 256. Erika Delgado, nine, was the only survivor after a mid-air explosion near Cartegena, Colombia. She was thrown from the plane as it made an emergency landing that left 51 dead.

August 16, 1987: Northwest Airline Flight 255. Toddler Cecelia Cichan, four, survived when all 154 other people on board - including her parents and 6-year-old brother - plus two people on the ground were killed when flight crashed after take-off in Saginaw, Michigan.

January 26, 1972: JAT Yugoslav Airlines Flight 367. Flight attendant Vesna Vulovic, 22, was lone survivor when plane plummeted 33,000 feet into the snow in Czechoslovakia after a bomb exploded, killing 22 passengers and five other crew members.

The cause of the crash remains a mystery.

Weather conditions and visibility were good at the time and officials have ruled out possible terrorism. Investigators are considering whether clouds of volcanic ash from Iceland over North Africa played a part.

But the European air traffic management agency said the ash cloud had moved into the middle of the Mediterranean and was unlikely to have affected an airliner in Libya, more than 2,000 miles to the west.

In recent years the plane had undergone on-the-spot checks by European air authorities, with no serious problems reported.

Libyan TV last night showed the Dutch boy, who is yet to be named, apparently conscious.

He appears to have been miraculously flung to safety from the wreckage.

‘It’s an absolute miracle that he got out,’ a source said. ‘He’s been rushed to hospital in Tripoli, but it’s hard to tell what kind of condition he’s in.

‘The plane crashed next to the runway. It was around a metre away.

'The body of the plane completely disintegrated, meaning most people would have died straight away.’

The boy's incredible escape recalls that of 14-year-old Bahia Bakari, who was the only survivor when a Yemenia Air Airbus 310 crashed into the Indian Ocean last June, killing 152.

Speaking at a press conference at O.R. Tambo airport in Johannesburg, Airports Company South Africa spokesman Nicky Knapp said: 'Seven passengers were due to board another plane to Gatwick after landing in Tripoli.

'32 were due to board a plane for Brussels, 42 for Dusseldorf and one for Paris.

'Eleven passengers were due to end their journey in Tripoli.'

An Afriqiyah staff member in Johannesburg said the airline uses Tripoli as its hub but routes through to London, Paris and other destinations.

The British Embassy in Libya confirmed a team had been dispatched to the airport in Tripoli.

Deputy Consul Arvinder Vohra and local staff have been in meetings with the airline to determine victims' identities.

Embassy spokesman David Clay said: 'Libyan officials informed us of the crash at 7am local time and sent representatives straight to the airport.

'They are talking to whoever they can to work out what happened and who was on board flight 8U771.

Police and rescuers examine the debris including empty green  seats

Tragic: Police and rescuers examine the debris, including two empty seats, near the runway in Tripoli this morning. Much of the debris was still smoldering as it was examined by officials


A rescue worker searches through personal belongings of a  passenger found among the debris today

A rescue worker searches through personal belongings of a passenger found among the debris today

An unidentified man walks among the wreckage this morning. It is  not yet clear what caused the crash

An unidentified man walks among the debris, spread far over the crash area this morning

'Everyone in the office is also working as fast as possible to get a clearer picture of the situation but the investigation is still in its early stages.'

A British High Commission spokesman in Pretoria said officials in South Africa were also working on the case.

He said: 'We are in constant contact with our colleagues in Tripoli.'

Libyan state television showed a large field scattered with small and large pieces of plane debris.

Dozens of police and rescue workers with surgical masks and gloves walked among the wreckage, some of them carrying at least one body away.

They gathered small personal items such as wallets and cell phones from the wreckage.

Others sifted through debris - some of it still smouldering - including a flight recorder and green seats with television screens on them.

A large piece of the plane's tail was visible, bearing Afriqiyah's brightly coloured logo with the numbers '9.9.99,' a reference to the date of the founding of the African Union.

The airport road into Tripoli – which is some 15 miles away – was this morning full of ambulances and other emergency vehicles including numerous fire engines and police cars.

Weather conditions over Tripoli's international airport were good yesterday, with three-mile visibility, scattered clouds at 10,000 feet and winds of only three miles per hour.

Debris from the shattered plane, which is believed to have crashed  just one metre from the airport runway, is strewn over a wide area

Libyan television showed images of debris on the ground. The plane is said to have been just one metre from the runway when it crashed

Daniel Hoeltgen, spokesman for the European Aviation Safety Agency, said Afriqiyah has undergone 10 recent safety inspections at European airports, with no significant safety findings. He said a team of French crash investigators was already on its way to Tripoli.

'We are currently talking to Airbus and with the French accident investigator BEA, which will be involved in the investigation,' said Hoeltgen.

The plane's flight recorders have been recovered. Terrorism has already been ruled out as a cause of the crash.

Afriqiyah Airways is not included on the European Union's list of banned airlines. The list has nearly 300 carriers deemed by the EU not to meet international safety standards.

According to initial reports, the plane crashed as it neared the threshold of Tripoli International's main east-west runway, while preparing to touch down from the east.

Workers examine another crumpled section of the fuselage. It is  not yet clear what happened to cause the crash

Another large piece of fuselage that survived the impact. Locals said the weather had been clear at the time of the crash today

The main runway at Tripoli Airport is 3,600 yards long.

According to international airport guides, it is not equipped with an Instrument Landing System. This all-weather, precision approach system guides descending planes down to the threshold of the runway.

But it does have two other systems that many other airports use worldwide - a high frequency omnidirectional radio system that pilots use to navigate their aircraft, and a non-directional beacon that also helps guide planes into the airport.

The BBC has reported that the Afriqiyah Airways flight from Johannesburg had been due to land at 0610 local time (0410 GMT).

The airline had said earlier today that a search and rescue operation was under way. Later this morning it said that mission was over.

Al Afriqiyah is a Libyan airline that started in 2001.

Crash: An aerial view of the airport at Tripoli in Libya, where  the flight crashed this morning

An aerial view of the Tripoli airport (file photo), where the plane crashed just before landing today

It is a small budget airline which only operates 13 planes. They have an average age of 6.9 years.

All of Afriquiyah’s 300 odd staff are Libyans, including the entire crew of the plane which crashed.

Until today it had an impeccable safety record, with this morning’s disaster being by far the worst accident in its nine-year history.

It mainly operates on African routes, but international destinations include London, Paris, Rome and Amsterdam.

It was at first fully owned by the Libyan state. The company's capital was later divided into shares to be managed by the Libya-Africa Investment Portfolio.

On April 21, the airline announced that flights were back to normal after disruptions due to the volcanic ash cloud from Iceland that grounded flights in Europe last month.

Last June, a 14-year-old French girl was the sole survivor of a Yemeni plane crash off the Comoros Islands.

Bahia Bakari attributed her survival to being ‘ejected’ from the Airbus A310 which broke up on a flight from Paris.

She is thought to have escaped through a small gap in the broken fuselage.

Her size, youth, and good health were all viewed as vital factors in enabling her to survive.

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