x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Child survivor 'barely able to swim'

Father speaks of Bahia Bakari's 'miraculous' story of survival as rescuers locate a signal from black box and the Yemenia airlines make initial payment of Dh103,000.

MORONI, COMOROS // The only known survivor of the crash of the Yemeni airliner clung to wreckage in the Indian Ocean for more than 10 hours before she was rescued, officials said yesterday, hailing the girl's courage. Bahia Bakari, 12, was recovering in hospital in the Comoros capital Moroni, a few kilometres from where the Yemenia airline jet plunged into the sea early Tuesday, killing the other 152 on board. "She showed admirable courage," Alain Joyandet, France's co-operation minister, told reporters after meeting the girl in hospital. "She spent close to 10 hours waiting to be rescued after the crash." Bahia's father, Kassim Bakari, said his daughter was ejected from the plane into the ocean and suffered a fractured collarbone and burns to her knee, but no life-threatening injuries. Some others aboard the A310 survived the impact with the rough seas, at least for a while, the girl indicated to her father. "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." When rescuers arrived she was too weakened to react. "We tried to throw a lifebuoy. She could not grab it. I had to jump in the water to get her," one rescuer told France's Europe 1 radio, saying that when Bahia was spotted, she was bobbing in the middle of bodies and plane debris. "She was shaking, shaking. We put four covers on her. We gave her hot, sugary water. We simply asked her name, village." The head of the government crisis cell in the Comoros said the girl survived astonishing odds. "It is truly, truly, miraculous," said Ibrahim Abdoulazeb. "The young girl can barely swim." Mr Bakari said his daughter had been told her mother survived the crash. "When I spoke to her she was asking for her mother. They told her she was in a room next door, so as not to traumatise her. But it's not true. I don't know who is going to tell her." Yemenia airlines said it will make an initial payment of ?20,000 (Dh103,000) to the families of each victim. Abdul Khaleq al Qadi, the chairman, told reporters in Sana'a the payments would be "a first instalment", without saying when they would begin. The announcement came amid mounting anger over the condition of the 19-year-old Yemenia jet, which had been banned from France's airspace because of doubts about its safety. Comoros vice president Idi Nadhoim criticised France over the crash, saying Paris should have alerted them that the plane was unsafe. Comorans in Marseille said the tragedy was waiting to happen. "We had been sounding the alarm bells, both here and in the Comoros," said Moegni Toahiry, 39, as he stood outside his Comoran consulate hoping for news of his cousin and three children who were on the flight. Some Comorans staged a protest at Paris Charles de Gaulle airport yesterday delaying a Yemenia flight for 40 minutes to highlight what they called poor safety conditions on the planes. * AFP