Airbus crashes, 153 aboard

June 30, 2009 12:00 am

, MORONI, Jun 30 – A Yemeni Airbus carrying 153 people crashed into stormy seas as it came into land in the Comoros islands early on Tuesday in what was the second Airbus to crash in less than a month.

Bodies and wreckage from the Yemenia airline flight were spotted in the Indian Ocean near Moroni, capital of the island archipelago, aviation officials said. A rescue operation was launched to try to find survivors.

There were 142 passengers and 11 crew on board the flight which started in Paris early on Monday and had made stops in Marseille, Sanaa and Djibouti, an official with the carrier said.

France’s Transport Minister Dominique Bussereau said Yemenia was a company "under surveillance" and that "numerous faults" had been recorded on the jet involved.

The director of Moroni international airport, Hadji Ali, said the control tower lost contact with Flight IY 626 just before it was due to land and confirmed there was bad weather.

French civil aviation officials said 66 of the passengers were French. Three small babies were also on board, officials said.

Rescue boats were sent to the scene and France sent two navy ships and a plane from its nearby Indian Ocean territories to help.

But stormy weather conditions in the area was hampering the rescue.

"A small plane flew over the scene and the pilot spotted debris and the craft," said Nourdine Bourhane, the Comoros government’s secretary general.

"Bodies were seen floating on the surface of the water and a fuel slick was also spotted about 16 or 17 nautical miles from Moroni," senior Yemeni civil aviation official Mohammad Abdel Kader told reporters in Sanaa.

Kader said the wind was blowing at speeds of up to 70mph (115 kph) when the disaster occurred.

"Weather conditions were bad," he said. "The sea was rough."

The Yemenia Airbus A310 left Sanaa at 9:45pm (1845 GMT) on Monday and contact was lost four hours later at 1:51am (2251 GMT), Kader said.

"Yemenia regrets to announce the missing of its flight No IY626 from Sanaa to Moroni with 142 passengers and 11 crew on board Airbus 310-300," the airline announced on its website.

Kader said the 11 crew were made up of various nationalities.

Airbus, which is still reeling from the crash of an Air France A330-320 into the Atlantic on June 1 with 228 people on board, set up a crisis cell straight away. The European plane maker had no immediate comment on the crash.

Investigators are still searching for the cause of the Air France crash. The black box flight recorders have yet to be found and their signal is due to stop emitting on July 2.

French investigators have said the airspeed sensors had been feeding inconsistent readings to the cockpit.

The Yemenia flight started at Paris Charles de Gaulle on Monday morning. An Airbus A330-200 flew to Marseille in southern France, where there is a large Comoran community, and then went on to Sanaa. There were about 100 passengers on board when it left Marseille, Kader said.

In the Yemeni capital, people from various Arab states joined the flight and the passengers were transferred to the Airbus A310 which first flew to Djibouti.

A crisis task force was set up at Paris Charles de Gaulle airport while psychologists were on hand at Marseille’s airport to comfort the families of passengers on the plane.

"I am dismayed by what has just happened. It is likely, alas, that we will be affected," the Marseille mayor Jean-Claude Gaudin said on local radio. About 80,000 Comorans are believed to live in Marseille.

Yemen Airways was founded in 1961 before the formation in 1978 of Yemenia, which is 51 percent owned by the Yemeni government and 49 percent by Saudi Arabia, according to its website.


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