Page last updated at 18:39 GMT, Wednesday, 1 July 2009 19:39 UK

Survivor speaks of Yemenia crash

The 12-year-old plane crash survivor recovers in hospital

A 12-year-old girl thought to be the only survivor of the Yemenia air crash has told how she was thrown into the ocean and watched her aircraft sink.

Baya Bakari told her father, from a hospital in the Comoros Islands, that she heard voices around her in the Indian Ocean, but could not see anyone.

She was found clinging to debris some two hours after the crash.

The plane, going to the Comoros Islands from Yemen's capital Sanaa, came down in bad weather with 153 on board.

I kissed them both, then my wife turned around, she looked at me and she waved... For my wife it was the last time
Father of survivor Baya Bakari

Many of the passengers were travelling to the Comoros but had begun their journey in France on another jet operated by Yemenia, the national airline of Yemen, before boarding flight IY626 in Sanaa.

The EU and France have both said they highlighted safety concerns over Yemenia planes and said the jet that crashed had not flown into EU airspace since 2007.

But no official cause for the crash has yet been found. Earlier on Wednesday a French government minister in the Comoros capital, Moroni, said that a detected signal thought to be from one of the plane's "black box" flight recorders was in fact a distress beacon.

'True miracle'

Ms Bakari, who lives in Paris with her family, was treated in hospital in Moroni for injuries, said to include a fractured collarbone and burns.

On Wednesday evening, she was reported to be flying back to Paris in a French government aircraft.

French officials said that she was 12 years old, contradicting earlier reports she was 14.

Speaking from Paris, her father Kassim Bakari said she was thrown from the plane as it hit the water. He said she clearly recalled the chaos of her time in the water.

map of comoros islands

"She said: 'Papa, we saw the plane going down in the water. I was in the dark, I couldn't see a thing.

"'[And] on top of that daddy, I can't swim well and I held on to something, but don't really know what'.

"She's a very timid girl, I never thought she would escape like that," he said, adding that she was "fragile" and barely able to swim.

Mr Bakari recalled how he said goodbye to his wife and daughter at the airport as they headed to the Comoros.

"I kissed them both, then my wife turned around, she looked at me and she waved, and my daughter she didn't do anything, and that was the last time I saw my wife alive, because my daughter... I will see her again I hope, but for my wife it was the last time."

French officials in Moroni praised the girl's courage. International Co-operation Minister Alain Joyandet described her rescue as a "true miracle".

"She is a courageous young girl. She really showed an absolutely incredible physical and moral strength."

An uncle who visited the girl in hospital in Moroni told the BBC she did not yet know that her mother had died.

She was scheduled to be transferred back to Paris for treatment later on Wednesday, he added.

"She is conscious, speaking well, [she] is ok. She was joking, she was chatting, we laughed together.

"It's a miracle. It was God's will."

'No black box'

Earlier, Mr Joyandet reversed earlier claims that one of the plane's black box recorders had been found.

Angry Comorans demonstrate against Yemenia in Marseille
Comorans in France are angry at Yemenia's safety record

He said signals picked up by rescuers came from a distress beacon. Most aircraft have a flight data recorder and a cockpit voice recorder.

"The Transall (military plane) that picked up an acoustic signal did not, despite what was said this morning, detect the beacons of the flight recorders, but rather what appear to be its distress beacons," Mr Joyandet said in Moroni, the Comoros capital, AFP news agency reported.

There were 66 French nationals among the passengers. Most of the rest were Comorans, and most had flown on a different Yemenia aircraft from Paris or Marseille before boarding flight IY626 in Sanaa.

A French vessel has been sent to the site to start recovery operations, she added, and French rescue teams are involved in the search for survivors.

However, no-one from the plane has been confirmed alive apart from Ms Bakari, and rescuers say chances of finding more survivors are slim.

Angry protest

The French transport ministry said on Tuesday that the Airbus 310 plane which crashed had been banned from France because of "irregularities".

The Yemenia Airbus 310 that crashed - photo Air Team Images
France said the plane had been banned from its airspace

But Yemenia responded by criticising "false information and speculation about technical problems" on the plane.

Several Comoran expatriates angry with what they see as the poor state of the company's aircraft tried to stop passengers from checking in for another Yemenia flight leaving Paris Charles de Gaulle airport for Sanaa.

About 60 people failed to check in, reports said, but it was not clear how many did so as a result of the protest.

The crash was the second involving an Airbus aircraft in recent weeks. On 1 June an Air France Airbus 330 travelling from Rio de Janeiro to Paris plunged into the Atlantic, killing all 228 people on board.

Infographic of black box

Flight data recorders, or "black boxes", are in fact orange or red.
Commercial aircraft carry two. One logs performance and condition of aircraft in flight, another records conversations of crew and their contact with Air Traffic controllers during the flight.

The Crash Survivable Memory Unit (CSMU) contains a memory board surrounded by thermal insulation and steel armour that can withstand a crash impact thousands of times the force of gravity and survive in the sea at depths of 20,000ft (6,096m).

The CSMU is insulated to sustain temperatures up to 1,100C for up to an hour or "low" temperature fires of around 260C for 10 hours.
An underwater locator beacon fitted on recorders emits continuous ultrasonic "ping" when they come into contact with water. The signal can reach the surface from depths of 14,000ft.

France reverses 'black box' claim
01 Jul 09 |  Africa
Yemen airline's safety questioned
01 Jul 09 |  Europe
France 'banned Yemen crash plane'
30 Jun 09 |  Africa
In pictures: Yemeni plane crash
01 Jul 09 |  In Pictures
Timeline of Flight IY626
30 Jun 09 |  Africa
Ties that bind: Comoros and France
30 Jun 09 |  Middle East
Air disasters timeline
24 May 10 |  Special Reports
Country profile: Comoros
27 May 11 |  Country profiles

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