A woman who was 12 when she became the sole survivor of the 2009 Yemenia Airways crash in the Comoros Islands that killed all 152 others on board has described the terrifying moments before she plunged into the ocean and his subsequent rescue in the French trial. against the airline.
Bahia Bakari, 25, attended several hearings with her father but did not testify or speak to reporters at the trial, which opened this month.
“I didn’t see how I was going to get out of this,” Bakari said in court Monday of his hours in the water holding a piece of debris, with “the taste of jet fuel” in his mouth.
Bakari and her mother left Paris on June 29, 2009 for her grandfather’s wedding in the Comoros, changing planes in the Yemeni capital, Sanaa, for the final leg of the trip.
‘It was a smaller plane, there were flies inside and it smelled strongly of the bathroom,’ she said, but ‘the flight was normal’ – until the start from descent to landing.
During the night approach of Yemenia Flight 626 to Moroni, the capital of the Comoros Islands, located between Mozambique and Madagascar, the Airbus A310 crashed into the Indian Ocean with its engines at full throttle.
“I started to feel the turbulence, but no one was reacting much, so I figured it must be normal,” Bakari said as more than 100 family members or friends of the victims listened in silence.
Suddenly, “I felt something like an electric shock go through my body,” she told the court. “There is a black hole between when I was sitting on the plane and when I found myself in the water.”
The French overseas territory of Mayotte is part of the Comoros archipelago, and 66 French citizens were among the 142 passengers and 11 crew on board.
Investigators and experts found there was nothing wrong with the plane, instead blaming “inappropriate actions by the crew during the approach to Moroni airport, causing them to lose control” .
No one from Yemenia Airlines appeared at trial, where prosecutors accused the company of “flawed” pilot training programs and continuing to fly to Moroni at night despite its non-functional landing lights.
Yemenia is charged with manslaughter and bodily harm. The company’s attorneys have denied any wrongdoing.
Bakari, regaining consciousness, remembers waiting for hours in the water, trying to climb over the biggest piece of debris she could reach, but lacking the strength to succeed.
“I realized that voices were calling for help in Comorian, and I shouted a little but without too much hope, because there was only water around me and I didn’t see anyone” , she says. “I ended up falling asleep clinging to the wreckage of the plane,” and while she could see the coast when she woke up, “the water was really choppy.”
It was thinking of her ‘incredibly protective’ mum who held her together until she was rescued by a boat after 12 hours in the water.
Initially, she was convinced “that I was the only one to fall” and that the other passengers had arrived safe and sound, before a hospital psychologist told her that she was the only survivor.
“The hardest thing for me was dealing with my mother’s grief. I was very close to her,” Bakari said, his voice cracking and tears flowing for the first time during his testimony.
The Yemeni national airline, whose representatives said they could not attend the trial amid their country’s long civil war, faces a maximum fine of €225,000 (£191,000).
“It’s really a shame. Even though the current management was not in charge at the time, it is still their business. And me and those families would have liked them to listen to us,” Bakari told reporters after leaving the courtroom.
“Because often we talk about the little girl who survived, but it was above all a tragedy.”