A passenger jet from Yemen with 153 people on board crashed in the Indian Ocean early Tuesday as it tried to land during heavy wind on the island nation of Comoros, and search teams rescued a child from the sea, officials said.
There were 142 passengers and a crew of 11 Yemenis on board when the Airbus A310, which had set off from the Yemeni capital of San’a, went down shortly before landing in Moroni, on the main island of Grand Comore, Yemeni civil aviation deputy chief Mohammed Abdul Qader said.
Most of the passengers were from Comoros, returning from Paris. Those on board included families with children and there were at least three babies on the flight, he added. France said 66 on board were French nationals.
Comoros immigrations officer, Rachida Abdullah, told The Associated Press that a child was rescued from the sea. She said that three bodies have also been retrieved, along with debris from the plane, but that no other survivors have been recovered so far.
Abdul Qader, the Yemeni official, said the child was 5 years old. He said it was too early to speculate on the reasons for the crash, adding that the flight data recorder hadn’t been found.
“The weather was very bad … the wind was very strong,” he said, adding the windy conditions hampered rescue efforts. Abdul Qader said wind speed was 40 miles per hour (61 kilometers per hour) as the plane was landing.
Gen. Bruno de Bourdoncle de Saint-Salvy, the senior commander for French forces in the southern Indian Ocean, said the Airbus 310 crashed in deep waters about 8 nautical miles (9.2 miles) north from the Comoran coast and 18 nautical miles (21 miles) from the Moroni airport.
And on the Indian Ocean island of Ile de la Reunion, an official statement from the French prefecture said the crash occurred at 02:50 GMT Tuesday (10:50 p.m. EDT Monday).
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said French aviation and naval support was heading to help in search operations at the Comoros government’s request.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy “expressed his deep emotion” about the accident and asked the French military to help in the rescue operation, particularly from the French islands of Mayotte and Reunion, according to a statement from his office.
Kouchner expressed “sincere condolences” and said the French Embassy in Moroni was “fully mobilized” to help families. The French junior minister for cooperation, Alain Joyandet, is heading Tuesday to Moroni, the statement said.
The Comoros is an archipelago of three main islands situated about 1,800 miles (2,900 kilometer) south ofYemen, between Africa’s southeastern coast and Madagascar.
Christophe Prazuck, French military spokesman, says that patrol boat, the Rieuse and fregate Nivose, a reconnaissance ship, were being sent to crash site as well as Transall, a military transport plane. The French were sending divers as well as medical personnel on the plane, he said.
In Paris, a crisis cell was set up at Charles de Gaulle airport. Most of the passengers on board were from the French city of Marseille, which has a large Comoros community.
Another crisis cell has been established in Marseille, according to Stephane Salord, the consul general of the Comoros in the Provence-Alps-Cote d’Azur region of France.
“There is considerable dismay,” Salord said. “These are families that, each year on the eve of summer, leave Marseille and the region to rejoin their families in the Comoros and spend their holidays.”
In France, this week is the start of annual summer school vacations.
An Airbus statement said the plane that crashed went into service 19 years ago, in 1990, and had accumulated 51,900 flight hours. It has been operated by Yemenia (Yemen Airways) since 1999.
Airbus identifies the plane’s serial number as 535, and said it was sending a team of specialists to the Comoros.
The A310-300 is a twin-engine widebody jet that can seat up to 220 passengers. There are 214 A310s in service worldwide with 41 operators.
France’s transport minister Dominique Bussereau said French aviation inspectors found a “number of faults” during a 2007 inspection of the plane. He told France’s i-Tele television that the Airbus A310 was inspected byFrance’s civil aviation agency DGAC and “they noticed a certain number of faults.”
On May 31, an Airbus A330 operated by Air France ran into thunderstorms after leaving Brazil and crashed into the Atlantic. Fifty-one bodies were recovered from that flight, which was carrying 228 people.