Tripoli: A Libyan Airbus jet crashed early on Wednesday as it tried to land in Tripoli airport, killing 103 people on board, most of them Dutch, leaving a young Dutch boy the sole survivor, officials said.
The Airbus A330-200, which had only been in service since September, was flying from Johannesburg to the Libyan capital when it crashed just short of the runway around 6:00 am (0400 GMT), the airline and planemaker said.
Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende said there were several dozen Dutch passengers on board the aircraft. Libyan officials said 22 of the victims were Libyans, but they gave no details of the other nationalities on board.
“Everybody is dead, except for one child,” Libyan transport minister Mohamed Zidan told a news conference at Tripoli airport. The plane was carrying 93 passengers and 11 crew, Libyan officials and executives from the airline said.
The minister said investigators were working out what went wrong with Afriqiyah Airways flight 8U771 but he said he ruled out terrorism as the cause. The Libyan state-owned airline, established in 2001, has never before had a crash.
The survivor was a 10-year-old Dutch child who did not have life-threatening injuries, the minister said. “The child is in good condition and is in hospital undergoing checks,” he said.
Reuters pictures from the crash site showed the ground carpeted with small pieces of debris from the plane and passengers’ personal effects, including a Dutch-language guide book to South Africa.
Only the tail fin, decorated with Afriqiyah Airways’ red, green and yellow insignia, was more or less intact, standing upright but leaning at an angle.
A Reuters reporter at the airport said ambulances were taking bodies of the victims to hospital mortuaries.
Dutch tour party
It was possible that some of the passengers had been bound for Britain because the flight from Johannesburg connects in Tripoli with an Afriqiyah Airways service to London.
Dutch Motorists’ Association ANWB, which has an emergency assistance service for Dutch people abroad, said 61 Dutch nationals were killed in the crash.
A spokeswoman for the organization, Annelies Tichelaar, said they had been travelling on tours organized by travel agencies Stip Reizen and Kras.
She said the travel agencies were arranging shelter and assistance for friends and family of the victims at Brussels and Dusseldorf airports where they had gathered expecting to meet the returning Dutch passengers.
On the surviving Dutch boy, she said: “We are now talking about whether it is possible if he can come back to Holland soon and who will take care of him.”
Saleh Ali Saleh, head of the Afriqiyah Airways legal department, told Reuters by telephone that the plane’s black boxes had been recovered from the crash site.
“The deaths were probably due to the impact as I did not hear any report of a fire. The plane was travelling fast as it was still short of the runway when it crashed,” Saleh said.
Planemaker Airbus issued a statement confirming it had manufactured the plane involved in the crash. “Airbus will provide full technical assistance to the authorities responsible for the investigation into the accident,” it said.
The crashed aircraft was delivered from the production line in September 2009 and had accumulated approximately 1,600 flight hours in some 420 flights, Airbus added.
The aircraft is the same type as Air France flight 447, which crashed in the Atlantic on 1 June last year. The cause of that crash has not been firmly identified.