- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 2, 2009

MORONI, Comoros | Despite a fractured collarbone, a teenage girl clung to the wreckage of a plane for more than 13 hours before rescuers found her floating in the Indian Ocean, authorities said. The only known survivor of the crash, she was being flown back to Paris on Wednesday night.

The Yemenia Airbus 310 jet was carrying 153 people when it went down in howling winds early Tuesday in the sea north of the Comoros Islands.

French officials late Wednesday retracted claims that one of the plane’s black boxes had been found. French Cmdr. Bertrand Mortemard de Boisse said a signal detected from the debris of Yemenia Flight IY626 was from a distress beacon, not from one of the plane’s black boxes.

The flight data and cockpit voice recorders in those boxes are crucial to helping investigators determine the cause of the crash off this former French colony.

An Associated Press reporter saw 14-year-old Bahia Bakari in a Comoros hospital Wednesday as she was visited by government officials. She was conscious with bruises on her face and gauze bandages on her right elbow and right foot. Her hair was pulled back and she was covered by a blue blanket but she gamely shook the hand of Alain Joyandet, France’s minister for international cooperation.

Her uncle, Joseph Yousouf, said Bahia also had a fractured collarbone.

“It is a true miracle. She is a courageous young girl,” Mr. Joyandet said, adding that Bahia held onto a piece of the plane from 1:30 a.m. Tuesday to 3 p.m., then signaled a passing boat, which rescued her.

“She really showed an absolutely incredible physical and moral strength,” he said. “She is physically out of danger - she is evidently very traumatized.”

The girl was traveling with her mother, who is feared dead. They had left Paris on Monday night to see family members in Comoros.

“She’s asking for her mother,” Mr. Yousouf said. For fear of upsetting Bahia, he told her that her mother is in the room next door.

Mr. Joyandet said the girl would be flown back to France on Wednesday night and put in a Paris hospital upon arrival.

The girl’s father told French radio that his oldest daughter could “barely swim” but managed to hang on. Kassim Bakari, who spoke with her by phone, said Bahia was ejected and found herself beside the plane.

“She couldn’t feel anything, and found herself in the water. She heard people speaking around her but she couldn’t see anyone in the darkness,” Mr. Bakari said on France’s RTL radio. “She’s a very timid girl, I never thought she would escape like that.”

Sgt. Said Abdilai told Europe 1 radio that Bahia was too weak to grasp the life ring rescuers threw to her, so he jumped into the sea to get her. He said rescuers gave the trembling girl warm water with sugar.

Rescue boats, meanwhile, searched the waters north of the main island.

“The search is continuing,” Mr. Joyandet said. “No other survivors have been found.”

The tragedy prompted an outcry in Comoros, where residents have long complained of a lack of seat belts on Yemenia flights and planes so overcrowded that passengers had to stand in the aisles.

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