Libyan Jet Crash Kills 103; Dutch Boy Sole Survivor

By Ali Shuaib and Salah Sarrar | May 13, 2010

A Libyan Airbus jet crashed early on Wednesday as it tried to land at Tripoli airport, killing 103 people on board and leaving a Dutch boy the sole survivor, Libyan officials said.

The Airbus A330-200, only in service since September, was flying from Johannesburg to the Libyan capital when it crashed just short of the runway around 6 a.m. (0400 GMT), the airline and plane maker said.

The aircraft is the same type as Air France Flight 447, which crashed in the Atlantic on June 1 last year. The cause of that crash has not been identified.

Saleh Ali Saleh, an executive with Libya’s Afriqiyah Airways told Reuters 62 Dutch nationals had been among those on board.

“Everybody is dead, except for one child,” said Libyan Transport Minister Mohamed Zidan, who added the child was 10 years old. The plane was carrying 93 passengers and 11 crew, Libyan officials and executives from the airline said.

Dutch Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen told reporters in The Hague that the boy had said “Holland, Holland” to Libyan medical staff. The child’s doctors at a Tripoli hospital said he had suffered leg fractures but was in a stable condition.

A manifest of those on board was not released but officials in Libya and in the passengers’ countries of origin said, besides the Dutch, there were small numbers of nationals from Britain, Germany, the Philippines, South Africa and Zimbabwe.

The transport minister told a news conference 13 Libyan passengers and crew had been on the aircraft. He said there were also citizens of France and Finland on board, though he did not say how many.

The minister said investigators were working out what went wrong with Afriqiyah Airways Flight 8U771. He ruled out terrorism as the cause.

Mohamed Rashid, a doctor at Tripoli’s al-Khadra hospital, said the boy — identified by Libyan officials as a Dutch national — was doing well after surgery on his leg fractures. “The operation was successful and he is under our care,” he told reporters, adding that some of the medical staff spoke Dutch and were able to communicate with the patient.

DEBRIS
Footage on Libyan state television showed the child in a hospital bed, conscious and wearing a breathing mask. The only visible sign of injury was a bandage around the top of his head.

In The Hague, Verhagen told a news conference he could not confirm if the boy had Dutch nationality.

He said Dutch officials were still trying to confirm the casualty numbers. “Tonight a government plane will fly to Libya with a team to support the people in Libya,” Verhagen said, adding that the group included an identification team.

Reuters pictures from the crash site showed the ground carpeted with small pieces of debris, including a Dutch-language guide book to South Africa. Only the aircraft’s tail fin was more or less intact, standing upright but leaning at an angle.

Libyan newspaper Quryna reported that shortly before the crash the pilot had contacted the control tower to ask them to alert emergency services because there was a problem with the plane. There was no official confirmation of that report.

Afriqiyah Airways, which is owned by the Libyan state and was established in 2001, has never before had a crash.

European aviation safety officials told Reuters that Afriqiyah’s aircraft — including the plane in Wednesday’s crash — had been subject to regular inspections and no significant problems had been reported.

(Additional reporting by Raissa Kasolowsky in Dubai, Tim Castle in London, Gordon Bell in Johannesburg, Tom Pfeiffer and Lamine Ghanmi in Rabat, Harro ten Wolde in The Hague, Aaron Gray-Block in Amsterdam and Tim Hepher in Paris; Writing by Christian Lowe; Editing by Louise Ireland)

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