By Calvin Palmer
A teenage girl has been rescued from the Indian Ocean after a Yemenia Air flight from Paris, carrying 153 people, crashed off the Comoros Islands today. She is believed to be the sole survivor.
Sgt Said Abdela, of the Comores armed forces, said that he had helped rescue the girl, who he said was a Comorienne aged about 14. “She is talking. She’s ok,” he told Europe1 radio. “We have given her water and sugar.”
He added that the sea was too rough for rescue boats to collect more than a few bodies.
The Airbus 310 ditched in the sea after an aborted landing attempt at Moroni Airport on Grand Comore. Strong winds, gusting up to 70 mph, are being blamed for the disaster.
The pilots were reported to have been making their second attempt at landing at Moroni after aborting a first touch-down in gusty cross-winds of up to 50 mph. Circling back to land while low over the water the aircraft hit the ocean, according to first reports.
The flight used a larger Airbus A330 from Charles De Gaulle Airport to Sana’a in Yemen via Marseille. At Sana’a, passengers had changed planes to an Airbus 310 and been joined by others for the rest of the flight to the Comoros via Djibouti.
Dominique Bussereau, the French Transport Minister, said the Airbus A310 was a 19-year-old aircraft that had been banned from French air space since 2007 after an inspection at Paris airport found that it did not meet safety standards.
“The plane that was involved today was not allowed into France,” said Bussereau. “The company was not on the black list but was subject to stricter checks on our part, and was due to be interviewed shortly by the European Union’s safety committee,” he said.
France’s transport ministry said 66 of those on board were French citizens.
This latest air disaster comes a month after an Air France Airbus 330 carrying 228 passengers and crew disappeared over the Atlantic after taking off for Paris from Rio de Janeiro in Brazil.
The French nationals are believed to be mainly residents originally from the islands now living in France and returning home for the summer holidays at the end of the school year.
The largest Comorran community in France is in Marseille, where the flight picked up the majority of its passengers.
Witnesses at the airport in Moroni, Grand Comore’s capital, said people waiting to meet relatives 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.
Yemenia Air’s website carried a brief statement saying it regretted the loss of flight IY 626 and giving families an emergency number to ring.
Passenger lists showed that numerous families, including three babies, were on board.
The Comoros government said speed boats were sent to look for signs of wreckage immediately, helped by two French fighter jets based in Mayotte and another of the country’s Indian Ocean territories, Reunion.
They spotted an oil slick around 16 miles offshore.
Sana’a airport said there were 142 passengers on board the plane, with the remainder being crew.
Christophe Prazuck, a French military spokesman, said a frigate, Nivose, and patrol boat, Rieuse, were on their way to the scene. A military transport aircraft was in addition taking a team of divers and doctors.