Netherlands to repatriate child survivor after plane crash

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Dutch leaders expressed horror at Wednesday's Libyan plane crash believed to have killed 61 Netherlands citizens, as officials sought to repatriate a child who miraculously survived.

Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende reacted with shock to the tragedy, while Queen Beatrix's press office said she was "horrified" as the country's tourism federation ANWB put the Dutch toll at 61 of the total of the 103 dead.

Balkenende ordered the Dutch flag to be flown half-mast at all government buildings until sunset.

"Sixty-one Dutch people were killed," when an Afriqiyah Airways plane from Johannesburg disintegrated on landing around 6:00 am (0400 GMT) at Tripoli airport, ANWB spokesman Ad Vonk told AFP.

Only one Dutch passenger, a child, survived the crash, said Vonk, and "is in hospital."

Libyan officials identified the sole survivor as an eight-year-old Dutch boy.

The Dutch foreign ministry could not confirm the nationality, but said the child underwent surgery for broken bones at a Tripoli hospital some nine hours after the crash and would be interviewed as soon as possible.

"We are not 100 percent certain that the injured boy is Dutch," Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen told journalists in The Hague.

"What we do know is that he called out in Dutch to the doctor who was treating him, from which we deducted that he is of Dutch origin."

Dutch broadcaster NOS, which interrupted normal programming to follow the crash developments, showed footage of the survivor with facial bruises in a Libyan hospital bed, and translated a doctor as saying the child was a girl with several broken bones but "all the important organs in working order".

Verhagen also said the figure of 61 dead was based on booking lists provided by travel agencies and was "not 100 percent certain".

"We are not 100 percent sure that they all (people on the list) actually checked in."

A plane with Dutch forensic experts and consular staff would depart for Tripoli on Wednesday night to help identify the dead and provide support on the ground, the minister said.

The ANWB declined to give any information on the Dutch victims or the lone survivor, saying: "The foreign ministry is working with the identification of the victims so we don't give any information."

The Dutch daily Telegraaf said the child had been travelling with his or her parents and an 11-year-old sibling.

The 62 Dutch passengers on board the fated flight had been in two separate organised tour groups on their way to Brussels and Dusseldorf, with a stop-over in Tripoli, according to the ANWB.

The child's repatriation to the Netherlands was "in preparation", added ANWB spokeswoman Annemie Tichelaar. "We don't know when or how."

Balkenende earlier told a press conference that embassy staff were at the scene of the crash "to offer help and to assess the situation on the ground."

A crisis team has also been set up in the foreign ministry.

"Our thoughts are with those who are waiting in uncertainty," said Balkenende.

Queen Beatrix was "horrified" at news of the crash, said the government communications service.

Political parties announced they would suspend until Friday their campaigning ahead of parliamentary elections scheduled for June 9.

© 2010 AFP

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