Comoros crash survivor reunited with her family in France

Anger runs high in community over disaster

By Michel Euler and Tom Maliti
Associated Press / July 3, 2009
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LE BOURGET, France - A severely bruised young girl believed to be the only survivor of an Indian Ocean plane crash returned home yesterday to Paris, where she was embraced gently by her father, who tried to lift her spirits with a joke.

Bahia Bakari, 12, returned to France from the Comoros Islands on a French government plane. The Falcon-900 jet with medical facilities left the archipelago nation, a former French colony, and arrived at Le Bourget airport.

Yemenia Flight 626 crashed Tuesday morning off Comoros amid heavy winds. Bahia, described by her father as a fragile girl who could barely swim, spent more than 13 hours in the water clinging to wreckage before she was rescued. She was found suffering from hypothermia, a fractured collarbone, and widespread bruises to her face, elbow, and foot.

The other 152 people on the plane, including her mother and others from France’s Comoran community, are presumed dead.

Anger over the crash ran high yesterday in France’s Comoran community. In Marseille, police broke up a protest of hundreds of shouting demonstrators who tried to block passengers from boarding a Yemenia airlines flight to Moroni, the Comoros capital. There were no injuries.

Yemenia announced last night that it was suspending all flights from Marseille to Moroni for an indefinite period because of the danger to passengers and airline personnel. It said it would reimburse tickets for canceled flights.

In the Comoros, French and US ships and officials directed the search for survivors. Alain Baulin, a commander with the French Foreign Legion, said military planes spotted what appear to be life jackets floating in the sea yesterday, and divers were sent to the scene.

Bahia’s father, Kassim, met her as she arrived in Paris, saying he was relieved and overjoyed to see his daughter, even as he mourned his wife.

“It was very powerful,’’ he said of their reunion. He said he asked her, “‘How are you? Was the return trip OK?’ . . . We joked a little, the two of us. I took her in my arms, and I embraced her, but not too strongly because her collarbone is injured.’’