Bahia Bakari (born 1996) is a French schoolgirl who was the sole survivor of Yemenia Flight 626, an Airbus A310, which crashed into the Indian Ocean near the north coast of Grande Comore, Comoros on June 30, 2009, killing all the 152 other people on board. Bakari, who could barely swim and had no life vest, clung to a piece of aircraft wreckage, floating in heavy seas for over nine hours, much of it in pitch darkness, before being rescued. Her mother, who had been traveling with her from Paris, France, for a summer vacation in Comoros, died in the crash.
Dubbed "the miracle girl" by the world press ("la miraculée" in French), Bakari was flown back to France on a private Falcon-900 government jet, escorted by French Cooperation Minister Alain Joyandet. Arriving at Le Bourget airport, she was reunited with her father, Kassim Bakari, and the rest of her family, and transported to a Paris hospital for a fractured pelvis and collarbone, burns to her knees and some facial injuries.
Upon her return to Paris, Minister Joyandet hailed Bakari's survival:
|“||In the midst of the mourning, there is Bahia. It is a miracle, it is an absolutely extraordinary battle for survival ... It's an enormous message that she sends to the world ... almost nothing is impossible.||”|
Bakari was released from the hospital three weeks later, after undergoing treatment and surgery. In 2010 she released a memoir book, "Moi Bahia, la miraculée" ("I'm Bahia, the miracle girl"), co-authored with a French journalist as a ghostwriter, detailing her survival and rescue. She has reportedly turned down an offer by Steven Spielberg to make a film based on her book. According to Aviation Safety Network's database, Bakari is a survivor of the deadliest sole-survivor ocean crash, and the second deadliest sole-survivor crash ever.
Flight history and crash
Bakari and her mother, Aziza Aboudou, were traveling to the Comoros for a summer vacation. Like many of the passengers of Yemenia Flight 626, they began their voyage from Paris, France on a different plane, which made an intermediate stop in Marseille and then landed in Sana'a, Yemen. There the passengers boarded another aircraft, an Airbus A310, for the flight segment to Comoros, with a stop in Djibouti. As it descended for its approach, minutes away from its final destination of Prince Said Ibrahim International Airport, the jet plunged into the ocean 9 miles (14 km) north of the coastline of Grande Comore island, breaking apart as it hit the water, at approx. 01:50 local time (22:50 UTC). Bakari was ejected from the plane as it crashed, and found herself floating alone outside amid debris.
Bakari reported having no life jacket and only minimal swimming skills, but she managed to hold on to a piece of fuselage wreckage. Most of the time that was to elapse before her rescue was night. She reported later that initially there must have been other survivors as she could hear them after the crash but later the voices became silent. In the morning of the next day Bakari came to realize she was alone at sea having been drifting for hours without food and water. She also reported having seen a ship on the horizon that was, however, too far away to take notice of her.
Since the Comoran government has no ships of its own, it asked all commercial and private vessels to help in the search and rescue effort. At approx. 11 local time (08:00 UTC), about 9 hours after the crash, the Sima Com 2 — a privately owned ship which normally carries passengers between Comoros and the neighboring island of Madagascar — arrived at the crash site and discovered Bakari, as the sole survivor among bits of floating wreckage.
As soon as Bakari was sighted, a member of the rescue team threw her a life preserver, but the waters were too rough, and she was too exhausted to grab it. One of the sailors, Maturaffi Sélémane Libounah, jumped into the water and handed her a flotation device, after which they were both pulled safely aboard the Sima Com 2, where she was given dry blankets and a hot drink.
Ibrahim Abdallah, another sailor on the Sima Com 2, recalled Bakari's recovery:
When the girl saw us approaching, she let go of the piece of debris she had been using as a life preserver. Suddenly, a large wave flipped her over and she disappeared from view, until she reappeared a few minutes later. It was at this exact moment that Maturaffi jumped into the water to save her.
The next day, Bakari was transported back to Paris on a private French government Falcon-900 jet, escorted by Cooperation Minister Alain Joyandet, who called her survival "a true miracle." Upon arrival, she was reunited with her father and other family members, and taken by ambulance to the Armand-Trousseau children's hospital in eastern Paris, where she was admitted and diagnosed with a fractured pelvis and collarbone, burns to her knees, cuts, bruises and exhaustion. One of her first visitors in the hospital was then French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who reportedly promised to host her and her family at the Élysée Palace. She was released three weeks later after undergoing treatment and surgery.
In a commemoration ceremony held in Comoros for the accident victims on July 6, Comoran President Ahmed Abdallah Mohamed Sambi declared a month of national mourning in his island nation and honored Maturaffi Sélémane Libounah, the sailor who had rescued Bahia Bakari, telling him: "You saved someone else's life at the risk of losing yours."
In January 2010, Bakari released an account of her ordeal in a French memoir, "Moi Bahia, la miraculée" ("I'm Bahia, the miracle girl"), published by Jean-Claude Gawsewitch Éditeur in Paris, France. In the book, co-authored with French journalist Omar Guendouz as ghostwriter, Bakari provides details about her survival and rescue. She discloses that immediately after the crash, she thought she had fallen out of the airplane by pressing her forehead too hard against the window, and that her mother—who she believed had landed safely without her—would scold her for not wearing her seat belt. Then, floating on debris in the midst of a jet fuel slick released from the aircraft's burst fuel tanks, she recalls having "...this taste of fuel in my mouth, mixed with salt, which burned my throat, my lungs and my stomach." Bakari writes that she only realized her plane had crashed and that she was the sole survivor when she was in the hospital, believing until then that she had simply fallen out into the ocean. AOL News reports that Steven Spielberg approached Bakari to make a film based on her book, but she turned him down, worried that "it would be too terrifying."
- List of sole survivors of aviation accidents or incidents
- Juliane Koepcke - another teenage girl who was a sole survivor
- Cecelia Cichan - a four-year-old girl who was a sole survivor
- Vesna Vulović - a woman who was a sole survivor
- "Teen Air-Crash Survivor 'Didn't Feel a Thing'". Time magazine. July 1, 2009. Archived from the original on July 20, 2009.
- Campbell, Matthew (July 5, 2009). "Sole survivor of plane crash tells of rescue". The Sunday Times (London). Archived from the original on July 20, 2009. Retrieved April 26, 2010.
- "Bahia Bakari, la rescapée de l'A310 de Yemenia, est arrivée en France" [Bahia Bakari, Yemenia A310 survivor, arrives in France] (in French). Agence France-Presse on LaCroix.com. July 2, 2009.
- There are conflicting reports about the exact rescue time. French Minister Alain Joyandet, who was in Comoros the day after the accident, has been quoted as saying she was picked up around 15:00, which would be over 13 hours in the water. On the other hand, according to Bakari's memoir, published in 2010, she was in the water nine hours, consistent with the local Al Watwan news story, which reports she was recovered from the water at 11:05 local time.
- Bennett, Rosemary (December 27, 2009). "I saw dark shapes below and thought: this is the end". The Sunday Times (London).
- "French aviation agency says submarine hears signals from Yemenia Airways black boxes". Associated Press on Baltimore Sun. July 5, 2009.
- "Bahia Bakari, Comoros Crash Survivor, Returns To Father in Paris". The Huffington Post. July 2, 2009.
- "'Miracle' Teen Survived 13 Hours After Plane Crash". Associated Press on CBS. July 1, 2009.
- "Yemeni plane crash survivor leaves hospital". CBC News. July 24, 2009.
- "Teen Survivor of 2009 Crash Turned Down Spielberg". AOL News. Archived from the original on 16 May 2010. Retrieved May 20, 2010.
- Rice, Xan (July 1, 2009). "'Daddy, I couldn't see anything' - Yemenia Airbus crash survivor speaks". The Guardian (London). Retrieved April 26, 2010.
- "Aviation accident database (from 1943)". Aviation Safety Network. Retrieved 2009-07-11.
- "ASN accident record". ASN. Retrieved 2009-07-05.
- "Teen survives plane crash into Indian Ocean". CBC. June 30, 2009. Retrieved 2009-07-05.
- According to data in the U.S. Naval Observatory website for the accident site (longitude E43.3, latitude S11.3), there was no moonlight after the crash, since moonset had occurred at 00:23; sunrise took place at 06:26.
- "J’étais là au bon moment" [I just happened to be there at the right time]. Al-watwan (Comoros). July 6, 2009.; Original quote (in French): "Quand la fille nous a vu, de loin, elle a abandonné le contre plaqué qu’elle s’est servie de bouée de sauvetage. Soudainement, une grande vague l’a renversée et on l’a plus vu avant qu’elle soit de nouveau réapparue quelques minutes après. C’est en ce moment précis, que Maturaffi s’est jeté dans l’eau pour l’arriver à son secours."
- "Teen recovers after miracle rescue from Comoros jet crash". AFP on yahoo.news. July 1, 2009.
- Maliti, Tom (July 5, 2009). "Sailor recounts girl's rescue after plane crash". Associated Press on Seattle Times.
- According to local Comoran paper Al-watwan, Bakari was rescued from the ocean at coordinates: , approx. 21 miles (34 km) north of Mitsamiouli.
- Burke, Jason (July 5, 2009). "'When I saw the girl, I wasn't afraid to dive in'". The Guardian (London). Retrieved April 26, 2010.
- "'Fragile' girl clung to wreck for hours". The News & Observer. July 2, 2009.
- "Bahia, la miraculée, raconte l'enfer du crash de l'A310" [Bahia, the miracle girl, recounts the A310's horrific crash]. La Dépêche. January 12, 2010.
- "Safety calls on Comoros crash". The New York Times on WAtoday.com.au. July 3, 2009.
- "Comoros pays tribute to crash victims". AFP on Google. July 6, 2009. Retrieved 2009-07-07.
- "MOI BAHIA, LA MIRACULÉE". Jean-Claude Gawsewitch Éditeur. Retrieved May 20, 2010.
- "J'ai dans la bouche ce goût d'essence qui, mélangée au sel, me brûle la gorge, les poumons et l'estomac."
- Bahia Bakari. Moi Bahia, la miraculée. Jean-Claude Gawsewitch (on Amazon.com). Retrieved May 20, 2010.