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Paris trial to open for 2009 plane crash that left 152 dead and 1 alive

Rescuers gather at Galawa Beach, about 22 miles from Moroni, Comoros, July 1, 2009, as they prepare to search the area after a Yemenia Airbus passenger plane crashed into the Indian Ocean off the island nation of Comoros as it attempted to land in the dark amid howling winds.
Sayyid Azim
/
AP
Rescuers gather at Galawa Beach, about 22 miles from Moroni, Comoros, July 1, 2009, as they prepare to search the area after a Yemenia Airbus passenger plane crashed into the Indian Ocean off the island nation of Comoros as it attempted to land in the dark amid howling winds.

PARIS — The lone survivor of a 2009 plane crash that killed 152 other people is expected to attend the trial of Yemen's main airline which is opening Monday in Paris.

At just 12 years old, Bahia Bakari clung to floating debris from the plane for 11 hours in the Indian Ocean before being rescued. She called it "a miracle." Now 25, she recently told France 3 television she would attend the trial with both "apprehension" and "relief."

The trial is needed to "finally know the truth," said Bakari, who lost her mother in the crash.

The company, Yemenia, has been charged with "manslaughter and unintentional injuries" in the case. It has denied responsibility.

The 2009 Yemenia flight left from Paris before picking up other passengers in the southern French city of Marseille. It made a stopover in Sanaa, Yemen, where 142 passengers and 11 crew members boarded another plane to continue the journey to Moroni, the Comoros capital. During the landing in strong winds, the aging Airbus A310 crashed about 15 kilometers (9 miles) off the Comorian coast on June 30, 2009.

Yemenia is being tried in Paris over Bakari's injuries and the deaths of 65 French citizens. The company is facing a fine of up to 225,000 euros ($237,000). There are 560 plaintiffs in the case.

Most of the passengers onboard were from Comoros.

In 2015, the company was ordered in civil proceedings by two French courts to pay more than 30 million euros ($31.6 million) to the victims' families, who deplored the slowness of the procedure between France and the Comoros, a former colony that became independent in 1975.

In 2018, a confidential agreement was signed between Yemenia and 835 beneficiaries, who had to wait several more years to receive compensation.

Bakari said the crash was a surprise.

"We were told that we were going to land and there were jolts in the plane," Bakari told France 3 during the commemoration of the 10th anniversary of the tragedy. "No one seemed worried. Before the crash, my mother just said to me 'Did you fasten your seatbelt?'"

The plane then crashed into the ocean.

"I wake up in the water. It's dark. There are cries, people calling for help, crying. I also called for help," Bakari remembered.

After studying the plane's black boxes, French aviation investigators from the BEA (Bureau of Investigations and Analysis) found that pilot error was the cause of the crash. They said "the accident is not explained by a technical problem or by an explosion."

The agency wrote "the accident was due to inappropriate actions by the crew on the flight commands, which brought the plane into a stall."

The investigators noted that "several other factors also contributed to the accident," including windy conditions at the airport "and the lack of training or briefing of the crew before operating the flight to Moroni," an airport classified as having difficult landing conditions.

Still, the tragedy did not prevent Bakari from flying again "several times."

"I tell myself there's little chance it will happen to me a second time," she told France 3.

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