MORONI – French and U.S. aircraft hunted on Wednesday for survivors from a plane that crashed off Comoros, while in Paris expatriates from the Indian Ocean archipelago tried to block another flight by the same airline.
The Yemenia-run Airbus A310-300 went down in the Indian Ocean on Tuesday with 153 people on board as it came in to land at Moroni, the Comoran capital. It was flying the final leg of a trip from Paris and Marseille to Comoros via Yemen.
The cause of the crash was still unknown, but the black box has been located, state-run Yemenia said.
Just one survivor -- a 14-year-old Franco-Comoran girl -- has been found in the sea so far, having held on to floating material in the darkness of the early hours.
She clung to a piece of debris from the plane for 12 hours, French Cooperation Secretary Alain Joyandet told France Info radio, adding she would be flown to a Paris hospital.
She signaled to a passing boat and it was able to pick her up. She really showed incredible physical and moral strength.
Comoran Vice-President Idi Nadhoim told Reuters no other survivors had been found by Wednesday morning. But we haven't given up hope, he said in a telephone interview.
As a flotilla of boats took to sea off the main Grande Comore island at first light, angry Comoran expatriates tried to block passengers from checking into another Yemenia flight from Paris' Charles de Gaulle airport to Yemen.
We don't want any more coffins traveling. We don't want Yemenia any more, said one protester Idris Ahmed.
About 60 people who had been due to fly did not check in. The airports authority spokeswoman could not say if the protest was the cause or if they did not board for another reason.
About 100 people did check in and the flight took off.
The survivor from the doomed flight, identified as Bakari Bahia, had cuts to her face and a fractured collar-bone, but was stable overnight after being picked up on Tuesday.
Her father, Bakari Kassim, told French TV channel i-Tele he had contacted his daughter by telephone.
I asked her what happened and she said 'We saw the plane fall in the water. I found myself in the water. I was hearing people speak but I couldn't see anyone. I was in the dark. I couldn't see anything. Daddy, I couldn't swim very well. I grabbed on to something but I don't know what'.
Sixty-six French nationals were aboard the flight, Paris officials said. Though a full list has not yet been published, a Yemeni official said there were also nationals from Canada, Comoros, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Morocco, the Palestinian territories, the Philippines and Yemen on board.
With a population of about 800,000, the formerly French-ruled Comoros archipelago comprises three islands off mainland east Africa and just northwest of Madagascar.
Comoran officials said France had sent a plane and was moving two ships into the area, while the United States also sent a helicopter to help and a plane with supplies.
The crashed plane was the second Airbus to plunge into the sea within a month. An Air France Airbus A330-200 crashed into the Atlantic Ocean killing 228 people on board on June 1.
The Paris-Marseille-Yemen leg of the Yemenia flight was flown by an Airbus A330. In Sanaa, those passengers flying on to the Comoros changed onto a second plane, the A310 that crashed.
French Transport Minister Dominique Bussereau said Paris banned this specific Yemenia A310 from its airspace after faults were found in 2007.
Comoran vice-president Nadhoim, speaking on France 24 television, criticized French authorities for failing to pass on that information to Comoros.
Bearing in mind that these are planes made by Airbus, a big European company, we would have expected France to pass on to us the list of aircraft banned from flying in Europe, he said.
But Bussereau warned against quick assumptions. When you have an aviation disaster it's a number of things, sometimes negligence, pilot error, or bad weather, he said on radio.
Yemen's transport minister said the plane was thoroughly checked in May under Airbus supervision. It was in line with international standards, Khaled Ibrahim al-Wazeer told Reuters.
Yemenia is 51 percent owned by Yemen and 49 percent by Saudi Arabia. Airbus said it was dispatching a team of investigators to the Comoros. It said the aircraft was built in 1990 and had been used by Yemenia since 1999.
Yemenia announced it would pay 20,000 euros ($28,140) each in compensation to victims' families.
Regional air security body ASECNA said the wreckage was thought to lie about 300-350 meters below the sea's surface.
France and the Comoros have enjoyed close ties since the islands' independence in 1975. France estimates 200,000 people from Comoros live in mainland France.
(Additional reporting by Richard Lough in Antananarivo; Laure Bretton and Estelle Shirbon in Paris; Writing by Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by David Clarke and Elizabeth Fullerton)