BEIRUT

Middle East

Young Dutch crash survivor could go home as early as this weekend, doctors say

Tarek El-Tablawy

Associated Press

TRIPOLI: Authorities said the Dutch boy who is the sole survivor of a plane crash in Libya may be flown home to the Netherlands as early as Saturday, offering a glimmer of hope as investigators began the daunting task of identifying bodies and determining the crash’s cause.

Rescuers found 9-year-old Ruben Van Assouw still strapped in his seat and breathing in an area of desert sand strewn with the plane’s debris. His father, mother and 11-year-old brother are believed to have been among the 103 people on board who were killed Wednesday when their flight from South Africa crashed short of the runway in Tripoli.

One of the lead doctors treating the boy said he could return home as early as Saturday.

“The situation is stable,” said orthopedic specialist Sadig Bendala. “He’s OK. He’s not getting any worse. He’s progressing quite well.” The doctor said many factors could have played a role in his stunning survival, including where he was seated in the plane.

“It’s something from God, that he wanted him to live longer,” Bendala said.

The child was recovering well after 4 1/2 hours of surgery to repair multiple fractures to his legs. His aunt and uncle rushed to Libya from the Netherlands and were visiting him in a hospital in Tripoli.

The boy, contacted by phone by a Dutch newspaper, said he could not remember the crash.

“I don’t know how I got here, I don’t know anything else,” he told a reporter from De Telegraaf. “I just want to get going. I want to get washed, dressed and then go.”

The newspaper said a doctor handed his mobile phone to the boy to let him talk to its reporter. The interview angered Dutch officials since the foreign minister had asked the press to respect the boy’s privacy and not contact relatives of the victims, the Dutch state broadcaster NOS reported.

Most of those on board the Afriqiyah Airways flight from Johannesburg were Dutch tourists. The Airbus 330-200 may have been attempting a go-around in poor visibility caused by sunlit haze, safety officials and pilots familiar with the airport said Thursday.

The pilot of the airliner reported no technical problems before this week’s accident, the head of the commission of inquiry said on Friday.

“The pilot did not report any problems. Until the very last moment things were normal between the pilot and the control tower” at Tripoli airport before Wednesday’s disaster, Neji Dhaou said.

“What I can confirm for now is that the aircraft struck the ground before reaching the runway,” he said, adding that the investigators “have ruled out nothing for the moment.”

Both black boxes, the cockpit voice recorder and the flight data recorder, were immediately recovered at the crash site in the capital. Investigators from the United States, France, South Africa, and the Netherlands are helping Libya with the probe.

Dutch forensics teams will start work with Libyan officials to identify the bodies – a task that could take a week at least, depending on the condition of the bodies, said Dutch Foreign Ministry official Ed Kronenburg. They also want to return personal items to relatives of the victims, he said.

Relatives of the dead will be asked to provide details of distinguishing marks such as tattoos and scars, along with DNA and medical records to help identify them, said lead Dutch investigator Dann Noort.

“We try to collect information about the victims and try to get DNA, fingerprints and dental records,” Noort said, adding that the bodies are being stored in the morgues of two local hospitals. Identification work will take place in Libya, he said. Dutch officials said the bodies would be repatriated individually, as soon as each is identified.

A National Transportation Safety Board team of investigators from the US is to arrive Friday since the plane’s engines were made by US manufacturer General Electric.

 

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