Comoros crash survivor returns home

PARIS: A 12-year-old girl who survived a Yemeni airliner crash by clinging to wreckage in the Indian Ocean flew back to Paris on Thursday for an emotional reunion with her father.

The only known survivor among the 153 people on the Yemenia Airbus A310 jet, which crashed off the Comoro Islands on Tuesday, Bahia Bakari was brought home on a French government plane.

In the Comoros, French and American divers joined the search for debris and bodies. The French military have detected a distress beacon, but rescue workers said the aircraft wreckage was in deep waters and difficult to reach.

Yemenia's first flight to the Comoros since the crash landed in Moroni carrying some of the victims' relatives, as the French government came under fire for failing to charter an aircraft for the grieving families.

Bakari, who lost her mother in the crash, returned to a warm welcome at Paris's Le Bourget airport where her father and relatives embraced her as she was carried off the plane on a stretcher.

"She is doing well," her father Kassim Bakari told reporters, saying he was "very, very grateful" to be reunited with his daughter.

Suffering from exhaustion, with a fractured collarbone and burns to her knee, Bahia was taken by ambulance to a Paris intensive care ward for a full check-up, hospital officials said.

Despite the trauma, she seemed to "feel safe" on the flight home and managed to eat some lasagna and papaya, French Cooperation Minister Alain Joyandet said, describing her as "astonishingly composed, very gentle, very sweet."

Barely able to swim, Bahia was ejected into the ocean in pitch darkness when the Airbus plunged into the sea after attempting to land at Moroni airport.

Joyandet said Bahia told him that in the final minutes of the flight she heard "some instructions, she felt like a jolt of electricity, then a loud noise and she found herself in the water."

Bahia's father said that -- according to her account -- others survived the initial impact in the rough seas.

Yemenia airlines, under attack from angry relatives who suspect the plane was not safe, has offered initial compensation of 20,000 euros (28,000 dollars) to each of the victims' families.

Passengers on the Yemenia flight left Paris on Monday for Marseille and Sanaa aboard a modern Airbus A330 before switching to the older A310 jet to continue to Djibouti and Moroni.

French Comorans, who had long denounced Yemenia's use of ageing planes for the final leg of the journey between Yemen and the Comoros, said it was a tragedy waiting to happen.

The 19-year-old jet had been banned from French airspace because of safety doubts. Airbus stopped building the long-haul plane in 2007.

Comorans in Marseille want the French government to charter a plane to fly grieving relatives to the Comoros.

Community leaders hope to hand a letter to President Nicolas Sarkozy demanding an official inquiry into the crash, as well as the charter flight.

Sarkozy was to attend an interreligious ceremony for the crash victims at the Paris mosque Thursday evening.

Up to 500 Comorans staged a second day of protests at Marseille airport, police said, setting up a human chain to block Yemenia's check-in counters and forcing officials to cancel the airline's daily flight to Moroni.

"The situation is very, very tense," airport director Pierre Regis told AFP.

One of the passengers who arrived in Moroni Thursday, Hassan Abderemane, told AFP he was forced to fly with Yemenia to make it to the funeral of his brother-in-law since all other airlines were fully booked.

French Transport Minister Dominique Bussereau called for the creation of a "world blacklist" of airlines, saying the current system led some carriers to "reserve their best planes for Europe", penalising poor countries.

But Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner separately rejected criticism from the Comoros government, which complained Paris should have alerted them that the twin-engine A310 plane was unsafe.

Kouchner said it was well-known in the Comoros that the plane was banned by France.

Airbus, still reeling from the crash of an Air France A330 into the Atlantic on June 1 with 228 people on board, has sent investigators to the Comoros and a French judicial probe is under way.