A day after a Yemenia Airlines jet crashed into the Indian Ocean near the Comoros Islands, authorities are getting a clearer picture of exactly how many survivors have been found, and the status of the search for the plane’s flight data recorders.
In the aftermath of Tuesday’s tragic crash, chaos and confusion seemed to reign as conflicting reports were issued about both the number of survivors and the location of the black boxes.
Initial news stories said that either a five-year-old boy or a 14-year-old girl had been found alive, but subsequent reports claimed that there were no survivors.
As of Wednesday morning it was confirmed that a 12-year-old girl appears to be the only survivor from among the 152 people who were on board the plane.
Read the initial crash report in Yemenia Airlines Jet Crashes into Indian Ocean Near Comoros Islands.
Then on Tuesday the French government said that one of the plane’s black boxes had been found, but later in the day it retracted the statement. Authorities clarified that the search team had simply heard the “ping” from an underwater distress beacon, not a flight data recorder.
Rescue teams are still combing the waters off the coast of the Comoros where the plane went down shortly before landing, in hopes of finding more survivors. However, they say that chances are slim because of the rough seas and high winds.
In fact, authorities are amazed that the 12-year-old girl survived at all, considering that she is said to be fragile and not a very good swimmer. The girl, a French resident of Comoran heritage named Bahia Bakari, managed to cling to a piece of debris for 13 hours until she was rescued.
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Bakari, who suffered only minor injuries, recounted the dramatic scene of the crash to her father, who spoke with French reporters today. She said that she saw the plane hit the water from her window, then was thrown into the ocean in blackness and could hear other passengers talking and screaming around her.
The girl apparently has not yet been told that her mother, who was also on the plane, was killed in the crash. Her father was not on the flight.
Experts say that there have been 12 plane crashes since 1970 in which only one person survived, and dozens more in which a number of passengers came out alive even as other perished.
One of the most notable was United Airlines Flight 232, which crashed in Sioux City, Iowa in July 1989. The plane cartwheeled down the runway and broke apart during a botched landing, but miraculously 185 of the 296 onboard survived.
Aviation analysts say that it is actually not a miracle that people come out of crashes alive, but a matter of both luck and physics. Studies have shown that those seated near the tail of a plane are 40 percent more likely to survive a crash, while those in the front have the smallest chance and those over the wings are somewhere in between.
These odds seem to be primarily related to the fact that the nose of the plane always suffers the brunt of the impact, which is why flight data recorders are located in the rear of the plane.
Other factors that increase the odds of survival are the size of the plane – wide-bodies are safer – and a passenger’s proximity to emergency exits. However, the rest is left to chance. If a crack in the fuselage happens to open up right next to a passenger’s seat, that person has a greater chance of escaping than someone in a different row.
By Karen Elowitt for PeterGreenberg.com.