An Airbus A310-300 from Yemen with 153 people on board, including 66 French nationals, crashed into the sea as it approached the Indian Ocean archipelago of Comoros in bad weather early yesterday, officials said.
Some bodies were recovered from the wreck of the Yemenia plane, said Abdul-Rahman Abdul-Qader, undersecretary of Yemen’s aviation authority. He also said a five-year-old child had been rescued from the sea.
The Paris airports authority said 66 French nationals were aboard the plane, which was flying the final leg of a flight taking passengers from Paris and Marseille to Comoros via Yemen. A large number of Comoros nationals were also on board.
Two French military planes and a French ship left the Indian Ocean islands of Mayotte and Reunion to search for the plane.
“The planes have seen debris at the supposed point of impact,” Ibrahim Kassim, an official at the regional air security body ASECNA, told reporters.
It is the second Airbus to plunge into the sea last month, following an Air France Airbus A330-200 that crashed into the Atlantic Ocean, killing 228 people on board on June 1. A preliminary report on that crash is due tomorrow.
The Paris-Marseille-Yemen leg of the Yemenia flight was flown by an Airbus A330. In Sanaa, those passengers who were flying on to the Comoros changed onto a second Yemenia plane, the A310 that crashed.
French Transport Minister Dominique Bussereau said faults had been detected during inspections in France in 2007 on the Yemenia A310, and that it had not flown to France since.
“The A310 in question was inspected in 2007 by the DGAC [French transport authorities] and they noticed a certain number of faults,” he told the I-tele TV channel. “The company was not on the black list but was subject to stricter checks on our part, and was due to be interviewed shortly by the European Union’s safety committee.”
French TV showed pictures of friends and relatives of the passengers weeping at Paris’s Charles de Gaulle airport, many of them railing at the airline.
Airbus said it was dispatching a team of investigators to the Comoros. It said the aircraft was built in 1990 and had been used by Yemenia since 1999. Its engines were built by Pratt and Whitney, a unit of United Technologies.
“We still do not have information about the reason behind the crash, or survivors,” Mohammad al-Sumairi, deputy general manager for Yemenia operations, told reporters.
A Yemenia official said there were 142 passengers, including three infants, and 11 crew. The plane was flying to Moroni, capital of Grande Comore, the main island of the archipelago.
“The weather conditions were rough; strong wind and high seas. The wind speed recorded on land at the airport was 61kph. There could be other factors,” Sumairi said.
“We think the crash is somewhere along its landing approach,” Kassim said. “The weather is really not very favorable. The sea is very rough.”
ASECNA — the Agency for Aviation Security and Navigation in Africa and Madagascar — covers Francophone Africa.
The French military said it had sent military and civilian medical teams, boats and divers to the crash site aboard the plane from Reunion. Comoros authorities sent small speedboats to the area.
France and the Comoros have enjoyed close ties since the islands’ independence in 1975. France estimates 200,000 people from Comoros live in mainland France, and remittances from France are an important part of the islands’ economy.