Last Updated: Sun Oct 17, 2010 00:25 am (KSA) 21:25 pm (GMT)

Airbus, Dutch, US experts join Libya plane probe

Libyan security forces and rescue teams inspect the debris of the crashed passenger plane
Libyan security forces and rescue teams inspect the debris of the crashed passenger plane

Aviation experts combed debris for more clues on Thursday after finding the two black boxes from an Airbus jet that crashed at Libya's Tripoli airport, killing all but one of the 104 people on board.

The sole survivor of Afriqiyah Airways Flight 8U771 was a 9-year-old Dutch boy returning from a safari holiday with his family in South Africa, a Dutch newspaper reported.

Libya's government has ruled out an attack on the Airbus A330-200 that was flying from Johannesburg when it came down short of the runway early on Wednesday.

Experts from the Netherlands, United States and South Africa, a technical team from manufacturer Airbus and Libya's civil aviation authority began sifting through the scattered remains of the Airbus on Thursday.

They will back up a committee investigating the crash, Libya's transport minister said. "We are going to give full cooperation to this committee," Mohamed Zidan told reporters.

He said the two black boxes containing voice and technical data from the flight had been recovered in good condition and handed to the committee.

70 Dutch citizens

 The total destruction of the aircraft in a (runway) undershoot is unusual 
Paul Hayes, Ascend

Aviation experts said the almost brand new Airbus appeared to have hit the ground several hundred meters short of the Tripoli airport runway in visibility of 5 to 6 km (3-4 miles).

They said the airport approach lacked systems to provide crew with the aircraft's distance and height from the runway, although it was too early to say why it hit the ground and broke in pieces. Only the tailfin remained intact.

"Statistically the accident rate for these non-precision approaches is higher than for precision approaches. But we don't know if that is significant in this case at all," said Paul Hayes, safety director at aerospace information provider Ascend.

"The total destruction of the aircraft in a (runway) undershoot is unusual."

Evert van Zwol, chairman of the Association of Dutch Pilots, said Tripoli airport's landing arrangements were considered to be relatively straightforward.

"You are no longer in Europe. Things are a bit different. But communication with Tripoli air traffic control is good."

A total of 70 Dutch citizens died in the crash, the Dutch Foreign Affairs Ministry said in a statement on Thursday, more than the toll of 58 provided earlier by the airline.

Afriqiyah Airways said late on Wednesday that 6 South Africans, 2 Libyans, 2 Austrians, 1 German, 1 Zimbabwean, 1 French, and 2 British nationals were also on board.

Award-winning author Bree O'Mara, on her way to the Britain to sign a book deal, was among the dead, according to South African media.

Relatives of those killed were arriving to identify the bodies, Afriqiyah head of media Omrane el-Zabadi told Reuters.

Only survivor

There had been uncertainty about the young survivor's identity but the Dutch Foreign Ministry said on Thursday he was a boy named Ruben from the southern Dutch city of Tilburg.

"An employee from the Dutch embassy in Tripoli talked to him. He told them his name is Ruben and is 9 years old and from Tilburg. He is doing reasonably well considering the circumstances," the ministry said in a statement.

The boy had suffered leg fractures but was in a stable condition, doctors at a Tripoli hospital said.

A woman said to be the boy's grandmother told Dutch paper Brabants Dagblad that he was travelling with his 11-year-old brother Enzo and parents Trudy and Patrick van Assouw.

The Dutch Foreign Ministry said an aunt and uncle had landed in Tripoli along with Dutch aviation experts and would quickly visit the boy at the hospital.

The Rotsteeg family from the Dutch village Hendrik-Ido-Ambacht lost their two daughters Joyce, 25 years old, and Julia, 21 years old, Dutch daily De Telegraaf reported.

"It is terrible, a drama. These are their only two children," the girls' aunt was quoted as saying by the paper.

The aircraft is the same type as Air France Flight 447, which crashed in the Atlantic on June 1 last year. The cause of that crash has not been firmly identified.

Afriqiyah airline, backed by the Libyan government, has been in operation since 2001 and was flying 10 Airbus jets which had never had an accident, according to Ascend, which provides information on airlines.

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