, MORONI Jul 2 – The only known survivor of the Yemeni airlines crash off the Comoros islands, Bahia Bakari, 12, was flying home to her father in Paris in a French government plane, officials said.
Bakari survived the crash, which killed 152 people, by clinging to wreckage in the Indian Ocean for more than 10 hours before she was rescued, officials said, hailing the girl’s courage.
Among those missing and feared dead from the fatal flight to Moroni was Bakari’s mother.
"We are taking her to Paris to be with her father," French Cooperation Minister Alain Joyandet, said.
"Doctors consider there is no problem for her to be repatriated" despite a broken collar bone and burns to the knee, he said.
Bahia’s father, Kassim Bakari, told AFP that his daughter was ejected from the Airbus A310 into the ocean – suffering 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 told the RTL station after speaking to her by phone, adding that – as she told to him – some others survived the impact with the rough seas, at least for a while.
"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."
Joyandet said that, due to her state of shock, she was only able to recall in fragments the final moments of the ill-starred flight.
"She said that, at a point in time, instructions were given to passengers to strap themselves in," he said. "She said that afterwards, she felt something like electricity – that was the term she used.
"And then, very quickly, she found herself in the water hanging on to a piece of the aircraft with which she struggled to stay alive for more than 10 or so hours."
When rescuers emerged in the clear light of day, she was too weak to react.
"We tried to throw a life buoy. 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 she was spotted bobbing in the middle of bodies and debris.
"She was shaking, shaking. We put four covers on her. We gave her hot, sugary water. We simply asked her name, village."
Bakari was seen earlier Wednesday by an AFP correspondent being taken to Moroni airport from El Maarouf hospital in Moroni in an ambulance.
The head of the government crisis cell in the Comoros said the youngster survived astonishing odds. "It is truly, truly, miraculous," said Ibrahim Abdoulazeb. "The young girl can barely swim."
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."
In Paris, the French military said a Transall transporter taking part in the search and rescue effort picked up a signal from a rescue beacon on Wednesday, but found no bodies or large debris.
"The sea is bad, the wind is blowing and there is probably a strong current," said military spokesman Captain Christophe Prazuck. "As always in such operations, pugnaciousness and patience are most important."
He added that a French frigate would be joining the search effort "in the coming hours," to be followed by an Italian warship otherwise assigned to NATO anti-piracy operations off Somalia.
Prosecutors in the Paris suburb of Bobigny, whose jurisdiction includes the French capital’s main Charles de Gaulle airport, meanwhile formally opened a judicial investigation into the cause of the crash.
Three investigating magistrates have been tasked with seeing if the crash represents a case of manslaughter. Most of the passengers on the Yemenia flight boarded in Paris.
Yemenia airlines, which has come under attack from victims’ families angry over its safety record, said it will make an initial payment of 20,000 euros (28,000 dollars) to the families of each victim.
Chairman Abdul Khaleq al-Qadi told reporters in Sanaa 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. Airbus has stopped manufacturing the long-haul plane since 2007.
Comoros Vice President Idi Nadhoim criticised France over the crash, saying Paris should have alerted them that the twin-engine aircraft was unsafe.
"It could have been easier for us if France had communicated to us the list of Airbus planes not good to fly, which is not the case," Nadhoim told France 24 television.
That drew a brusque response from French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner.
"The plane was banned from flying to our country, everybody knew it," said Kouchner during a visit to Senegal. "Everybody knew it in the Comoros, everybody."