Yemenia Flight 626
7O-ADJ, the aircraft involved in the accident (2005)
|Date||30 June 2009|
|Summary||Stalled on approach, spatial disorientation leading to crash|
|Site||Indian Ocean, near Comoros
|Survivors||1 (Bahia Bakari)|
|Aircraft type||Airbus A310-324|
|Flight origin||Sana'a International Airport|
|Destination||Prince Said Ibrahim International Airport|
Yemenia Flight 626 was an Airbus A310-324 twin-engine jet airliner, operated by Yemenia, flying a scheduled international service from Sana'a, Yemen, to Moroni, Comoros, that crashed on 30 June 2009 at around 1:50 am local time (22:50 on 29 June, UTC) while on approach to Prince Said Ibrahim International Airport, killing all but one of the 153 passengers and crew on board. The sole survivor, 12-year-old Bahia Bakari, was found clinging to wreckage, after floating in the ocean for thirteen hours. Bakari was discharged from the hospital on 23 July 2009.
The final report on the incident concluded that the crew's inappropriate flight control inputs led to an aerodynamic stall. The report also noted that the crew did not react to the warnings being issued by the aircraft.
The aircraft was an Airbus A310-324 twin-engine jetliner, registration 7O-ADJ, manufactured in 1990 as serial number 535. It was in service for 19 years and 3 months, and had accumulated 51,900 flight hours on about 17,300 flights by the time of the accident.
Owned by the International Lease Finance Corporation (ILFC) the aircraft first entered service with Air Liberté on 30 May 1990. After leases to successive operators it was leased to Yemenia in September 1999, re-registered 7O-ADJ and remained in service with them until the accident.
Dominique Bussereau, the French Minister of Transport, reported that the plane was inspected in 2007 by the French Direction Générale de l'Aviation Civile and found to have a number of faults; since then, however, the aircraft had not returned to France, so it was never again inspected by the same authority.
Most of the passengers originated from Paris, where they had boarded Yemenia Flight 749, operated using an Airbus A330-200. There was a stopover at Marseille Provence Airport in Marseille, France, where additional passengers and crew boarded. After arriving at Sana'a International Airport in Sana'a, Yemen, passengers transferred to an Airbus A310 for Flight 626, which was due to arrive at Prince Said Ibrahim International Airport in Moroni, Comoros, at 2:30 am local time on 30 June.
The flight crew members, all Yemeni, were Captain Khalid Hajeb, First Officer Ali Atif, and Flight Engineer Ali Salem. Of the cabin crew, three were Yemeni, two were Filipino, two were Moroccan, one was Ethiopian, and one was Indonesian.
The crash occurred off the north coast of Grande Comore, Comoros, in the Indian Ocean several minutes from the airport. An unnamed United Nations official at the airport said that the control tower had received a notification that the plane was approaching to land before losing contact. There are unconfirmed reports that the plane had crashed after an aborted landing. There had been several days of inclement weather in the region at the time of the accident. An unseasonably strong cold front had moved through the Comoros Islands, bringing winds gusting to 64 km/h (40 mph; 35 kn) and conditions favorable for light to moderate turbulence. Yemeni civil aviation deputy chief Mohammed Abdul Qader said the wind speed was 61 km/h (38 mph; 33 kn) at the time the aircraft was landing.
Yemeni officials did not suspect foul play. This was the third accident for Yemenia; the previous two were runway incursions with no fatalities, although one aircraft was written off. This was the second major crash of an Airbus aircraft within the month, following the crash of Air France Flight 447 on 1 June with 228 fatalities, also including numerous French citizens.
Search and recovery
According to the Comoran police, the nation possesses no sea rescue capabilities. Two French military aircraft and a vessel began the formal search for Flight 626. They were sent from Réunion and Mayotte. The Comoros consists of three volcanic islands, Grande Comore, the main island; Anjouan; and Moheli. It is located in the Mozambique Channel, 190 miles (310 km) northwest of Madagascar and a similar distance east of the African mainland. The wreckage was spotted off the coast of the town of Mitsamiouli, including a few bodies and large amounts of floating debris in the ocean.
A 12-year-old girl was rescued after being spotted clinging to a piece of debris among bodies and wreckage. She was identified as Bahia Bakari, a Franco-Comoran. She was picked up during rescue efforts by local fishermen and speedboats sent by authorities on Grande Comore. She had been holding on to wreckage for 13 hours. Bakari had been traveling with her mother, who did not survive. Bahia was released from the hospital in Paris on 23 July 2009 approximately one month after the plane crash.
The Yemeni government stated that five bodies were recovered at the same time that the lone survivor was rescued. Another 22 bodies were recovered from Mafia Island in Tanzania during the second week of July 2009, and transferred to hospitals in Dar es Salaam.
On 5 July 2009, the signals from the aircraft's flight recorders were detected. The French oceanographic vessel Beautemps-Beaupré arrived at the Comoros on 15 July 2009, and by 23 July 2009 had completed a mapping of the ocean floor around the crash area, which helped pinpoint the exact location of the recorders. Due to the great depth of the recorders' current location, the French navy had announced that it would employ underwater robots for the recovery operation, which began in August 2009. The flight data recorder was eventually recovered on 28 August from the Indian Ocean at a depth of 1,200 metres (3,900 ft), while the cockpit voice recorder was recovered on 29 August.
The Agence Nationale de l'Aviation Civile et de la Météorologie(ANACM) of the Comoros was in charge of the investigation. The Bureau d'Enquêtes et d'Analyses pour la Sécurité de l'Aviation Civile (BEA) sent an investigative team, accompanied by Airbus specialists, to assist in the investigation of the causes. Yemen also sent a technical team to Moroni, while a committee, headed by the Yemeni Minister of Transport, has been formed. The BEA noted that due to corrosion damage on the memory cards, not all of the data from the CVR could be recovered.  The preliminary findings of the investigation point to pilot error as the cause of the accident. There were objections from the Comoros and Yemeni authorities to suggestions that pilot error was the cause. In November 2009, Yemenia announced that they were looking for a third party to investigate the accident, accusing the French of attacking Yemenia "day and night" and of "harassment". Yemenia stated that the investigation was "affecting the reputation of Yemen". In 2011 the BEA criticized the Comorian authorities, saying that they are not releasing the report in a timely enough manner.
On 25 June 2013, the Comoros investigative commission director Bourhane Ahmed Bourhane announced that "the accident was due to inappropriate action by the crew" during "an unstabilised manoeuvre." A group of victims' family members called for a demonstration in Paris on 28 June 2013 to protest the final report. According to the Yemen Post, Yemen suspects that the plane was taken down, despite a lack of any evidence indicating foul play.
The investigation determined that the accident was caused by the inappropriate actions of the crew that led to a stall that was not recovered from. The approach was unstabilized, triggering various alarms for ground proximity, aircraft configuration and approach to stall. The crew was focused on navigating, were stressed, and did not respond adequately to the different alarms. Contributing to the accident were the windy weather conditions, a lack of training, the lack of a crew briefing before the flight, the failure to perform the final visual turn to line up with the runway, and a failure to correctly respond to the PULL UP alarm.
Passengers and crew
There were 142 passengers and 11 crew aboard. Most passengers are believed to be either Comoran or French nationals. There were also citizens of Canada, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Morocco, Israeli Arabs, the Philippines and Yemen on board the plane. An airport source has claimed that 66 of the passengers held French citizenship, but many of those could be dual French-Comoran citizens. Many may have been residents of Marseille, a French city with a large Comoran population, headed home for a vacation; the week of the accident marks the beginning of summer vacations for French school children. The two other persons on board were said to be Europeans. The three flight crew members were all Yemeni. Of the cabin crew, 3 were Yemeni, 2 were Filipino, 2 were Moroccan, 1 was Ethiopian, and 1 was Indonesian.
The French Transport Minister Dominique Bussereau said that France banned this plane from its territory several years ago because "we believed it presented a certain number of irregularities in its technical equipment." However, the Yemeni Transport Minister Khaled Ibrahim Alwazir declared the plane was in line with international standards and that "comprehensive inspection" had been undertaken in Yemen with experts from Airbus. The Comoran community in France marched in Paris, in tribute to the victims of Flight 626. They also disrupted Yemenia flights, protesting in French airports against the airline's safety record and preventing passengers from boarding or checking-in. As a result, Yemenia canceled indefinitely all its flights to and from Marseille and all additional flights between Sana'a and Moroni.
Burial and repatriation of bodies
As of Tuesday 1 December 2009, remains of nine crew members had been retrieved and arrived in Sana'a. The crew members found were Captain Khalid Hajeb, First Officer Ali Atif, the three Yemeni cabin crew members, the two Moroccan cabin crew members, and the Ethiopian cabin crew member. One cabin crew member, Hamdi Wazea, was buried in Sana'a, while the other Yemenis who were found were buried in Aden. The bodies of the Moroccans were sent to Morocco, while the Ethiopian was sent to Addis Ababa. The crew members who had not been found included Yemeni engineer Ali Salem, the two Filipino cabin crew members, and the Indonesian cabin crew members. In the last two days leading to 1 December 54 bodies were buried in Moroni.
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