Jet crashes in Indian Ocean with 153 aboard, some Ethiopian nationals – NBC News and news services

June 30th, 2009 Print Print Email Email

Unconfirmed reports of a child being plucked alive from water investigated

SAN’A, Yemen – A passenger jet carrying 153 people crashed into the Indian Ocean early Tuesday while trying to land in bad weather at the island nation of Comoros.

Earlier reports that a 5-year-old boy had survived the crash and was found floating at sea were probably incorrect, said Rachida Abdullah, an immigrations officer in the Comoros. Now, it appears the survivor is a 14-year-old girl, she told The Associated Press.

Neither report could be independently confirmed.

The Airbus 310 operated by Yemenia airlines was flying to Comoros from Yemen. Most of the passengers were from Comoros, returning from Paris. Sixty-six on board were French nationals.

A Yemeni aviation official said there were also nationals from Canada, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Morocco, the Palestinian territories, the Philippines and Yemen on the plane.

‘Strong wind and high seas’

Reuters reported that five bodies were retrieved along with debris from the plane.

The Comoros is an archipelago of three main islands situated about 1,800 miles south of Yemen, between Africa’s southeastern coast and the island of Madagascar.

Mohammad al-Sumairi, deputy general manager for operations at airline Yemenia, told Reuters that “weather conditions were rough” at the time of the crash with “strong wind and high seas” reported.

“The wind speed recorded on land at the airport was 61 kph (38 mph),” al-Sumairi said.

Gen. Bruno de Bourdoncle de Saint-Salvy, the senior commander for French forces in the southern Indian Ocean, said the Airbus 310 crashed in deep waters about 9 miles north of the Comoran coast and 21 miles from the Moroni airport.

French aviation inspectors found a “number of faults” during a 2007 inspection of the plane that went down, French Transport Minister Dominique Bussereau said on i-Tele television Tuesday. He said the jet had not flown to France since.

But Yemen’s transport minister said the plane was thoroughly checked in May under Airbus supervision.

“It was a comprehensive inspection carried out in Yemen … with experts from Airbus,” Khaled Ibrahim al-Wazeer told Reuters from San’a. “It was in line with international standards.”

An Airbus statement said the plane that crashed went into service 19 years ago, in 1990, and had accumulated 51,900 flight hours. It has been operated by Yemenia since 1999. Airbus said it was sending a team of specialists to the Comoros.

The A310-300 is a twin-engine widebody jet that can seat up to 220 passengers. There are 214 A310s in service worldwide with 41 operators.

Reconnaissance ship
Christophe Prazuck, French military spokesman, said a patrol boat and reconnaissance ship were being sent to the crash site as well a military transport plane. The French were sending divers as well as medical personnel, he said.

According to Paris Airports press service, 67 of the passengers on board the Airbus 310 had flown from France on Monday on an Airbus 330.

Most of them were from the French city of Marseille, which has a large Comoros community and where the plane briefly landed to pick up more crew and passengers.

French television showed pictures of friends and relatives of the passengers weeping at Paris’s Charles de Gaulle airport, many of them railing at the airline.

A crisis center had also been established in Marseille, according to Stephane Salord, the consul general of the Comoros in the Provence-Alps-Cote d’Azur region of France.

“There is considerable dismay,” Salord said. “These are families that, each year on the eve of summer, leave Marseille and the region to rejoin their families in the Comoros and spend their holidays.”

In France, this week is the start of annual summer school vacations.

Yemenia airline officials say the 11-member crew was made up of six Yemenis, including the pilot, two Moroccans, one Indonesian, one Ethiopian and 1 Filipino. The officials asked that their named not be used because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

It is the second Airbus to plunge into the sea this month, following an Air France Airbus A330-200 that crashed into the Atlantic Ocean killing 228 people on board on June 1. A preliminary report on that crash is due on Thursday.

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