Dutch boy who is sole survivor of Libyan crash arrives home on medical evacuation flight

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Boy who survived plane crash back in Netherlands

AMSTERDAM — The 9-year-old Dutch boy who survived the plane crash in Libya arrived back in the Netherlands on a medical evacuation flight Saturday as Dutch, U.S. and other investigators worked in Libya to determine the cause of the crash.

Ruben van Assouw’s survival has been hailed as a miracle. He was found unconscious but alive in wreckage Wednesday near Tripoli airport. Everyone else on the plane was killed — 103 people in all, including Ruben’s parents and his 11-year-old brother.

An Associated Press cameraman saw the boy’s plane touch down at a military airport in Eindhoven, Netherlands and he was whisked away in an ambulance with darkened windows.

Due to privacy requests by the boy’s relatives, access to the airport was tightly restricted and camouflage nets had been hung from its fences. The Dutch Foreign Ministry confirmed the boy’s arrival but said it will not comment on his future plans.

Regional Dutch broadcaster Omroep Brabant reported Ruben has been taken to the St. Elizabeth Hospital in his hometown of Tilburg for further treatment.

The cause of the crash is not yet clear. The Afriqiyah Airways flight from South Africa hit the ground short of the runway while landing in Tripoli, the Libyan capital.

Both black boxes — the cockpit voice recorder and the flight data recorder — were immediately recovered at the crash site and sent to Paris for examination, said Ed Kronenburg, the top Dutch foreign ministry official in Libya.

Forensics teams began identifying the bodies of crash victims Saturday. Most of those on board the Airbus 330-200 flight from Johannesburg were Dutch tourists, and the Netherlands’ government has requested DNA and other information from victims’ relatives to help the process.

Dutch and French investigators have been mapping the crash site and began looking for clues Saturday about the cause, Kronenburg said. Investigators from the United States and South Africa are also helping Libya with the probe.

Rescuers responding to the crash found Ruben still strapped in his seat and breathing in an area of desert sand strewn with the plane’s shredded wreckage. Both his legs were broken, but he had no serious injuries to his neck, head or internal organs.

The boy underwent 4 1/2 hours of surgery to repair multiple fractures to his legs and doctors said he has been recovering well.

He made the trip from Tripoli on a Libyan plane equipped with medical equipment and was accompanied by two doctors, as well as his aunt and uncle.

Libyan doctor Sadig Bendala said the boy was continuing to recover.

“He’s OK, he’s fine today,” Bendala said before boarding the plane, calling Ruben “a miracle.”

Kronenburg called the boy’s return a “fantastic moment” despite his nation’s sorrow over the crash’s many victims.

“I hope he will slowly … recover and pick up his life again, although it will never be normal,” Kronenburg said.

The Dutch boy had gone with his family to South Africa on a dream safari vacation to celebrate his parents’ anniversary. Ruben was informed of his family’s deaths on Friday.

“The whole family is going to bear the responsibility for Ruben’s future,” his aunt and uncle said in a statement.

They have asked the media to leave them alone while they grieve.

Associated Press writer Tarek el-Tablawy contributed to this report from Tripoli, Libya.

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