Boy survives as 103 killed in Libya plane crash

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

An official in The Hague said 61 Dutch citizens were killed while Libyan Transport Minister Mohammed Ali Zidan listed "Libyans, Africans and Europeans" among the dead.

Zidan told a media conference that an inquiry was under way to determine what caused the Afriqiyah Airways Airbus A330 to break up massively as it was landing, but he 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 said, 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 good shape in a Tripoli hospital.

Witnesses spoke of the plane inexplicably breaking up as it came down to land in clear weather at around 6:00 am (0400 GMT).

"It exploded on landing and totally disintegrated," one security official told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity. Another official said the plane had burst into flames just before landing.

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," he said, adding that the two black boxes of the aircraft had been recovered.

The plane was new and had only been acquired by the airline in September.

Afriqiyah Airways listed 93 passengers and 11 crew members on board its flight 8U771 from Johannesburg, which was reportedly due to fly on from Tripoli to London's Gatwick airport.

EU parliament president Jerzy Buzek hailed news of the boy's survival.

"I have also been informed that one eight-year-old child has survived, which given this tragic event, is truly a miracle," he said in Brussels.

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

Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende told a media conference in The Hague that "several dozen" Dutch nationals were among the dead, although he did not have more precise information.

But the Dutch tourism federation ANWB gave a firm figure of 61 killed.

"Sixty-one Dutch people were killed in the accident," ANWB spokesman Ad Vonk told AFP.

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.

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

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.

Afriqiyah said on its website 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.

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.

© 2010 AFP

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