Dutch boy who is sole survivor of Libyan plane crash to return home Saturday

By Tarek El-tablawy, AP
Saturday, May 15, 2010

Dutch crash survivor to return from Libya Saturday

TRIPOLI, Libya — The Dutch boy who is the sole survivor of a plane crash in Libya was cleared by doctors to return home to the Netherlands Saturday, just hours after being told that his parents and older brother perished in the disaster.

Nine-year-old Ruben van Assouw’s survival of a crash that shattered the airliner into pieces has stunned doctors and given the tragedy at least one hopeful story. The Afriqiyah Airways flight from South Africa hit the ground short of the runway while landing Wednesday in Tripoli, killing 103 people, including the boy’s parents and 11-year-old brother.

Ruben will be taken home Saturday on a Libyan medical evacuation flight, said Dutch Foreign Ministry official Ed Kronenburg.

He was carried on a stretcher from the Tripoli hospital where he was being treated to an ambulance that was to take him to the airport. He was wrapped in a blanket and his head was covered with a sheet to obscure him from the view of a throng of journalists.

Orthopedic specialist Sadig Bendala said he was recovering well enough to make the journey and that he most likely would not have to be sedated during the flight.

“He’s OK, he’s fine today,” Bendala said.

Forensics teams, meanwhile, including experts from the Netherlands, are to begin the process of identifying bodies on Saturday. Most of those on board the Airbus 330-200 flight from Johannesburg were Dutch tourists.

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

The Dutch boy, who had gone with his family to South Africa to enjoy the nature and wildlife of places like Kruger National Park game reserve, has been under treatment at a Tripoli hospital. An aunt and uncle rushed in from Amsterdam to be at his bedside.

They said Friday that they had broken the news to the boy that his parents, Trudy and Patrick van Assouw, and his brother, Enzo, did not survive the crash.

“Under the circumstances, Ruben is doing well. He sleeps a lot. Now and then he is awake and then he is alert,” the aunt and uncle said in the statement.

“We told Ruben this morning exactly what happened. He knows his parents and brother are dead. The whole family is going to bear the responsibility for Ruben’s future,” they said.

“We have two kinds of sorrow to deal with, because Ruben is in a terrible situation, but we have also lost family members,” they said, adding an appeal for news media to respect for their privacy. “The coming time will be a difficult period for us.”

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. His legs were broken, but he had no serious injuries to his neck, head and face.

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

Bendala, the doctor who helped treat the boy, said many factors could have played a role in his stunning survival, including where he was seated in the plane.

“It’s something from God, that he wanted him to live longer,” Bendala told The Associated Press.

Officials have declined so far to comment on what may have caused the crash. The plane may have been attempting a go-around in poor visibility caused by sunlit haze, safety officials and pilots familiar with the airport said Thursday.

Naji Dhou, the head of the Libyan committee investigating the crash, said Friday that the pilot “did not declare any problems, as far as we know at this point” during the plane’s approach. Dhou declined to comment further, saying the investigation was ongoing.

Both black boxes, the cockpit voice recorder and the flight data recorder, were immediately recovered at the crash site and have been sent to Paris for analysis, Kronenburg said.

Associated Press writer Toby Sterling contributed to this report from Amsterdam, the Netherlands.

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