A Dutch boy was believed to be the sole survivor Wednesday after a passenger jet from South Africa crashed after dawn with 104 people aboard while attempting to land in the Libyan capital, Tripoli, according to Libyan and Dutch officials.
The Afriqiyah Airways Airbus A330 was making a final approach to Tripoli International Airport about 6:10 a.m. on a flight from Johannesburg, South Africa, that was scheduled to continue on to London’s Gatwick Airport. The Royal Dutch Tourism Board said 61 of the victims were with two tour groups from the Netherlands.
Libyan Transport Minister Mohammed Zidan said a 10-year-old boy with a Dutch passport was taken from the crash site.
“The child is in good condition and is in the hospital undergoing checks,” the minister said at a news conference at the Tripoli airport. The boy reportedly underwent surgery for fractures in both legs and other injuries.
The cause of the crash, which occurred in clear weather, is under investigation. Libyan officials quickly ruled out the possibility of terrorism. The plane’s manufacturer, French-based Airbus, said in a statement that “preliminary reports indicate that the aircraft crashed short of the runway threshold during approach.”
Authorities said the plane’s voice and data recorders had been found amid the shattered fuselage and scattered debris, luggage and clothing. The aircraft was carrying 93 passengers and 11 crew members. Ninety-six bodies had been recovered and Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende, speaking to reporters in the Netherlands, said the boy was the only known survivor. Other victims included citizens of Britain, South Africa and Libya.
Investigators from Airbus and France’s Bureau of Investigations and Analyses arrived in Tripoli to assist Libyan authorities. The European Aviation Safety Agency said three recent safety checks found the plane had no serious problems.
Afriqiyah Airways, which bills itself as a link between Africa and Europe, is frequently inspected, as are other African carriers. The nationally owned Libyan airline was founded in 2001 and has been flying a fleet of 11 planes, all Airbus models.
“Airbus will provide full technical assistance to the authorities responsible for the investigation into the accident,” said a company statement. “The concerns and sympathy of the Airbus employees go to the families.”
Flight 771 is the second Airbus A330 to crash in less than a year. On May 31, an Air France plane bound to Paris from Rio de Janeiro went down in the Atlantic Ocean, killing the 228 people on board. The data recorders in that case have not been found, and the cause of the accident is not known.
On Wednesday, Libya TV showed rescue workers fanning out over a clay-colored field strewn with splintered trees, airline seats and the plane’s broken tail section. Other video showed the injured boy lying in a hospital bed and being treated by a doctor.
Balkenende said the Dutch were in shock: “This is a large group of Dutch nationals after all, so it’s a deeply sad message we have this day.”
Afriqiyah Airways is managed by the Libya Africa Investment Portfolio. The plane used for Flight 771 was reported to have logged approximately 1,600 hours on about 420 flights.