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103 killed in Libya plane crash, child survives

world Updated: May 12, 2010 16:45 IST

AFP
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A Libyan plane arriving from South Africa disintegrated on landing at Tripoli airport Wednesday, killing 103 people but leaving an eight-year-old boy as the sole miracle survivor, officials said.

Libyan Transport Minister Mohammed Ali Zidan would not immediately say what caused the Afriqiyah Airways Airbus A330 to break up massively as it was landing at around 6:00 am (0400 GMT) but ruled out terrorism.

Libyan television showed teams of emergency workers sifting through the wreckage of the plane, which was scattered in a wide arc across the landing area.

"There were 104 people on board -- 93 passengers and 11 crew members," Zidan told a media conference, adding that the remains of 96 victims had already been recovered.

There was only one survivor, an eight-year-old Dutch boy, he said.

"His life is not in danger," Zidan said, adding that "the sole survivor" was in a Tripoli hospital.

The Dutch government said that "several" Dutch nationals were on board the Libyan plane but had no information on the boy survivor.

"We have at this moment clear indications that there were several Dutch nationals on board the crashed" plane, foreign ministry spokesman Christoph Prommersberger said.

"Our embassy in Tripoli has sent representatives to the airport to get more information and to assist any Dutch citizens who need to be helped."

Witnesses spoke of the plane inexplicably breaking up as it came down to land in clear weather.

"It exploded on landing and totally disintegrated," one security official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Bongani Sithole, an official of Afriqiyah Airways at Johannesburg airport, said the crash happened "one metre (yard) away from the runway."

Minister Zidan said no terrorism was involved.

"We have definitely ruled out the theory that the crash was the result of an act of terrorism," the minister said.

While the nationalities of the victims of the flight from South Africa that was reportedly due to fly on for London's Gatwick airport had yet to be assessed, he added, "I can say that there are Libyans, Africans and Europeans."

The airline listed 93 passengers and 11 crew members on board its flight 8U771 from Johannesburg.

Authorities in Pretoria said they were trying to determine if any South Africans were among the dead.

"We have established consular emergency response and request South Africans who had relatives aboard that plane to call us so that we able to assist with repatriation of the remains and helping them get visas to Tripoli as soon as possible," foreign ministry spokesman Saul Molobi said.

Afriqiyah Airways said on its website that it operates an Airbus fleet.

It started operations with five leased planes and signed a contract with Airbus at an exhibition in Paris in 2007 for the purchase of 11 new planes, the website said.

It was founded in April 2001 and at first fully owned by the Libyan state. The company's capital was later divided into shares to be managed by the Libya-Africa Investment Portfolio.

On April 21, the airline announced that flights were back to normal after disruptions due to the volcanic ash cloud from Iceland that grounded flights in Europe last month.

Last June, a 12-year-old girl was the sole survivor of a Yemeni plane crash off the Comoros.

Wednesday's crash was the deadliest air accident in Libya since December 22, 1992 when a Libyan Arab Airlines plane crashed near Tripoli airport killing 157 people.

Twenty-two people were killed in an oil company plane crash in January 2000.

In other major accidents, 79 people were killed when a Korean Air crashed in Tripoli in July 1989.

And 59 people died in a Balkan Bulgarian Airlines crash near Benghazi in December 1977, while 36 passengers and crew died when a Central African Airways came down in August 1958, also near Benghazi in eastern Libya.