Hopeful family members visit crash survivor

2010-05-13 12:51

Hopeful family members rushed to a Libyan hospital today to reunite

with the Dutch boy who was the only survivor of a plane crash that killed 103

people. Doctors said the 9-year-old was out of danger after surgery on his

shattered legs.

An unnamed spokesperson from the Dutch embassy in Tripoli told

Dutch state broadcaster NOS that the boy immediately recognised his relatives

when they came in to see him, and smiled at them.

The Dutch Foreign Ministry said the boy had told an embassy

official his name is Ruben, he is 9-years-old and he is from the southern city

of Tilburg in the Netherlands.

A Dutch newspaper quoted a woman who appeared to be the boy’s

grandmother as saying he had been in South Africa on safari with his brother and

parents, who were celebrating their wedding anniversary.

The Libyan plane was arriving from South Africa yesterday when it

crashed minutes before landing at the airport in Libya’s capital Tripoli.

Dr. Hameeda al-Saheli, the head of the paediatric unit at the

Libyan hospital where the boy is being treated, said he is breathing normally

and his vital organs are intact.

She told the official Libyan news agency he suffered four fractures

in his legs and lost a lot of blood, but his neck, skull and brain were not

affected and he did not suffer internal bleeding.

The Dutch Foreign Ministry said: “As soon as his health permits he

will be brought to the Netherlands.”

Officials at al-Khadra hospital said three Westerners visiting the

boy today were his relatives. The Dutch Foreign Ministry said the boy’s aunt and

uncle were in Tripoli.

The hospital officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they

weren’t authorised to release the information.

Libyan television showed images yesterday of the boy laying on a

hospital bed after the crash, breathing through an oxygen mask with his head

bandaged and face bruised and swollen.

The Dutch daily newspaper Brabants Dagblad quotes a woman named An

van de Sande as saying her grandson Ruben was in South Africa on safari with his

brother and parents.

However, she said relatives who had seen TV footage of the boy in

the hospital were reluctant to confirm his identity.

The newspaper identified the boy as Ruben van Assouw from

Tilburg.

The Airbus A330-200 was completing a more than seven-hour flight

across the African continent from Johannesburg when it crashed. About half of

the crash victims were Dutch tourists who had been vacationing in South

Africa.

Officials had no immediate explanation for how the boy survived the

crash that killed everyone else on the plane.

But there have been at least five cases this decade of a single

survivor in a commercial plane crash. Last year, a young girl was found clinging

to wreckage 13 hours after a plane went down in the water off the Comoros

Islands.

Patrick Smith, an American airline pilot and aviation author, said:

“The idea of a lone survivor might seem a fluke, but it has happened several

times.”

In a field near the Tripoli airport runway, little was left of the

Afriqiyah Airbus.

Libya’s Transport Minister, Mohammed Zaidan, said the plane’s two

black boxes had been found and turned over to analysts. He said the cause of the

crash was under investigation, but authorities had ruled out a terrorist

attack.

Afriqiyah Airways said Flight 771 was carrying 93 passengers and 11

crew.

It said the passengers included 58 Dutch, six South Africans, two

Libyans, two Austrians, one German, one Zimbabwean, one French and two

British.

The nationality of 19 more passengers have yet to be established,

it said in a later statement. All 11 crew members were Libyan, it added.

Many of the passengers were booked to travel from Tripoli on to

other destinations in Europe.

More than 600 A330s have been built since the type entered service

in 1994. The Afriqiyah crash is only the second fatal accident involving an A330

in airline service.

The other was the crash of Air France flight 447 a year ago off the

coast of Brazil.

But last month, an A330 belonging to Cathay Pacific was forced to

make an emergency landing in Hong Kong because of engine trouble.

Fifty-seven passengers suffered mostly slight injuries in the

ensuing evacuation. The Hong Kong Civil Aviation Department said control

problems with the two Rolls-Royce engines forced the Airbus to land at a

higher-than-normal speed, damaging an engine cowling, puncturing the tires and

causing a small fire in the wheelwell.

The pilots reported that they were unable to get the engines to

function normally, and that during the approach and landing phase one was

operating at 17% of thrust while the other was stuck at 70%.


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