Moroni: French and US aircraft joined a flotilla of local boats on Wednesday combing the Indian Ocean waters where an Airbus A310-300 went down off the Comoros archipelago with 153 people on board, almost all feared dead.
Just one survivor — a 14-year-old Franco-Comoran girl — has been found in the sea after the plane crashed as it came in to land at the capital Moroni under darkness on Tuesday morning.
The girl, identified as Bakari Bahia, had cuts to her face and a fractured collar-bone, but was stable overnight,
“Her health is not in danger. She is very calm given the shock she suffered,” local surgeon Ben Imani told the agency at Moroni’s El Marouf hospital.
Sixty-six French nationals were aboard the doomed flight, Paris officials said. Though a full list has not yet been published, a Yemeni official said there were also nationals from Canada, Comoros, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Morocco, the Palestinian territories, the Philippines and Yemen on board.
The plane was flying the final leg of a trip from Paris and Marseille to Comoros via Yemen.
The 14-year-old girl was picked up during rescue efforts on Tuesday by local fishermen and speedboats sent by authorities on the main island, Grande Comore.
With a population of around 800,000, the formerly French-ruled Comoros archipelago comprises three islands off mainland east Africa and just north-west of Madagascar.
Comoran officials said that France had sent a plane, and was also moving two ships into the area, on Wednesday to launch a formal search operation. The US also sent a helicopter to help, and a plane with supplies.
“We are meeting now with the French and American teams to coordinate our actions,” said Colonel Ismael Moegni Daho, head of the local Centre for Rescue Operations and Civil Protection.
The crashed plane was the second Airbus to plunge into the sea this month. An Air France Airbus A330-200 crashed into the Atlantic Ocean killing 228 people on board on 1 June.
The Paris-Marseille-Yemen leg of the Yemenia flight was flown by an Airbus A330. In Sanaa, those passengers who were flying on to the Comoros changed onto a second Yemenia plane, the A310 that crashed.
French transport minister Dominique Bussereau said France had banned the Yemenia A310 from French soil after faults were found in a test in 2007.
“The question we are asking ... is whether you can collect people in a normal way on French territory and then put them in a plane that does not ensure their security. We do not want this to happen again,” he told the I-tele television channel.
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 the agency from Sanaa. “It was in line with international standards.”
In France, mourning expatriate Comorans said the crash had been an accident waiting to happen.
“Yemenia was the cheapest of all the ‘rubbish companies´ with a near-monopoly on this destination,” said Farid Soilihi, president of the pressure group “SOS-Voyages to the Comoros.”
Yemenia is 51% owned by Yemen and 49% by Saudi Arabia. Its fleet includes two Airbus 330-200s, four Airbus 310-300s and four Boeing 737-800s, according to its website.
Airbus said it was dispatching a team of investigators to the Comoros. It said the aircraft was built in 1990 and had been used by Yemenia since 1999. Its engines were built by Pratt and Whitney, a unit of United Technologies.
A Yemenia official said there were 142 passengers including three infants, and 11 crew. The weather was rough — with high winds — but the cause of the crash was still unknown.
France and the Comoros have enjoyed close ties since the islands’ independence in 1975. France estimates 200,000 people from Comoros live in mainland France, and remittances from France are an important part of the islands’ economy.