Libyan crash leaves one survivor, ash cloud causes “unlikely”

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At least one hundred and four people, including 93 passengers and 11 crew members have perished in a plane crash involving Libya’s Afriqiyah airlines. The crash occurred as the plane touched down at the Tripoli international airport on Wednesday. Only a child of eight years is believed to have survived. The Libyan Ministry of Transport has rejected the hypothesis of a terrorist act.

The death toll is heavy. One hundred and four people died Wednesday when an A330 Airbus belonging to Libya’s Afriqiyah airlines exploded as it touched down at Tripoli international airport. “There were 103 people aboard, 93 passengers and eleven crew members,” said Mohamed Zidane, Libyan Minister of Transport, adding that the close to one hundred victims had so far been recovered.

According to him, only an 8 year old boy of Dutch nationality survived. Twenty-two Libyan nationals, half of whom were crew members, were aboard the aircraft. The other passengers were of various nationalities, both European and African. The Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende has indicated that some 61 Dutch nationals were among the victims. Others included; British, German, South African, French, Finnish and Libyan.

“It exploded on landing and totally disintegrated”

The plane from Johannesburg, exploded at 6:00 am (0400 GMT) as it touched down at the Tripoli airport. According to the South African representation of the company, the plane crashed only “one meter” from the runway. “It exploded on landing and totally disintegrated,” said a security source, on condition of anonymity.

The aircraft was torn apart and debris is reported to have been scattered some 500m from the runway, according to an AFP journalist. Security services and rescuers are on the site of the crash to recover the remains of persons who were aboard the plane. The Libyan airline has installed an information center in a hotel in Tripoli to accommodate relatives of victims. In the Netherlands, a crisis unit has been set up at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Terrorist act rejected

In the coming hours, a team of investigators accompanied by Airbus engineers are expected go to Tripoli to determine the cause of the crash. For now, the Libyan Minister of Transport has ruled out the possibility of a terrorist act, and although the possibility of volcanic ash clouds from Iceland, which led Morocco to close eight of its airports on Tuesday have been ruled out after the UK’s meteorological services said the cloud was well west of Tripoli at the time of the disaster, a formal report is yet to be established.

Meanwhile, AFP has indicated that Brussels-based European air traffic management agency has said that “the thinning volcanic ash cloud that disrupted air traffic over parts of Europe and the Atlantic in the past few days had moved into mid-ocean and was unlikely to have affected an airliner in Libya”. Nonetheless, Morocco’s case was the first time a non European country had been affected by the Icelandic volcanic ash cloud.

The aircraft maker has also said in a statement that it will provide complete technical assistance to authorities investigating the accident through its Bureau of Investigations and Analysis. According to international conventions, Libya must lead the investigation, which should also involve the a representation of the aircraft’s country of manufacture, namely France, where the Airbus plane was built. The crashed plane is believed to have been constructed only last year. The A330-200 plane had been in service for eight months, according to Reuters and “had been inspected three times in Paris by France’s DGAC aviation agency.”

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