A Yemeni Airbus jet which crashed carrying 153 had reportedly been banned in France due to ‘irregularities’.
One 14-year-old girl was pulled from the sea alive after the crash, and Yemeni authorities said they had seen bodies at the site of the crash in the Indian Ocean between Yemen and the Comoros islands.
The A310 jet had aborted a landing attempt and was making a second attempt when it crashed, officials said.
It was the second time in less than a month that an Airbus has crashed into the ocean. This time French authorities said the Yemeni carrier had been under surveillance and that the 19-year-old jet had been banned from French airspace.
Bodies and wreckage from the Yemenia airline flight were spotted in the sea near the archipelago’s capital, Moroni, aviation officials said.
The teenager, who was among the 142 passengers and 11 crew on Flight IY 626 was rescued alive, Ramulati Ben Ali from the local Red Cross told AFP, adding that her condition was “not worrisome”.
Arfachad Salim, a rescue coordinator for the Comoros Red Crescent, confirmed she was the only living passenger so far and said local fishermen had also found wreckage, passengers handbags and other effects.
A man identified as one of the girl’s rescuers told France’s Europe 1 radio that the teenager was seen swimming in choppy waters in the middle of bodies and plane debris around 4am local time.
“We tried to throw a life buoy. She could not grab it. I had to jump in the water to get her,” the rescuer said.
“She was shaking, shaking. We put four covers on her. We gave her hot, sugary water. We simply asked her name, village.”
There were no reports of other survivors. Officials said the plane crashed into rough seas in darkness, after disappearing from control tower radar screens at 1.51am local time on Tuesday.
“They are saying the plane was making its approach, that it pulled out of the approach and then tried another approach that went wrong,” French Transport Minister Dominique Bussereau told French radio.
Witnesses told AFP they saw the jet turn back from an attempted landing.
“I saw the plane approach and then go away again, I just could not understand it,” said former defence minister Houmed Msaidie, who went to Moroni-Hahaya airport to pick up his mother-in-law.
The flight left Paris on Monday for Marseille and Sanaa, where passengers switched to the older Airbus to continue to Djibouti and Moroni.
Bussereau said French inspectors had in 2007 found numerous faults on the A310 and that the airline was being closely monitored by EU authorities.
“The plane had not since then reappeared in our country,” he told i-tele news.
According to an EU legal document, other inspections in Germany and Italy had shown up “deficiencies” with the airline, and in July last year the EU commission had insisted Yemenia provide an “action plan” to address safety concerns.
Yemen’s Transport Minister Khaled al-Wazir told AFP the plane was technically sound and had “been overhauled in May 2009 and regularly flew to Europe”.
“Only a week back it flew from London,” he said.
French civil aviation officials said 66 passengers were French. Many of the passengers were likely to hold dual nationality, however. Three small babies were also among the passengers, officials said.
France sent two navy ships and a plane from its nearby Indian Ocean territories to help the rescue and Madagascar said it was sending a vessel as well.
“Bodies were seen floating on the surface of the water and a fuel slick was also spotted about 16 or 17 nautical miles (30km) from Moroni,” senior Yemeni civil aviation official Mohammad Abdel
Kader told reporters in Sanaa.
“Weather conditions were bad,” he said. “The sea was rough.”
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, immediately set up a crisis cell and sent investigators to the
No cause has yet been announced for the Air France disaster. The black box flight recorders have yet to be found and their signal is due to stop emitting on July 2.
The European plane maker said the jet which crashed off Moroni was made in 1990 and had been operated by Yemenia since 1999.
Airbus said in a statement the jet had accumulated approximately 51,900 hours in the air from some 17,300 flights.
The Yemenia flight started at Paris Charles de Gaulle on Monday morning, using a more modern Airbus A330-200 for the first legs of the journey.
The plane 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, Yemeni civil aviation official Kader said.
In the Yemen capital, people from various Arab states joined the flight and the passengers changed to the Airbus A310 which first flew to Djibouti.