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Child only survivor in Libyan jet crash

TRIPOLI (Reuters) - A Libyan Airbus jet crashed early on Wednesday as it tried to land at Tripoli airport, killing 103 people on board and leaving a young Dutch boy the sole survivor, Libyan officials said.

The Airbus A330-200, which had been in service only since September, was flying from Johannesburg to the Libyan capital when it crashed just short of the runway around 6 a.m. (0400 GMT), the airline and planemaker said.

The aircraft is the same type as Air France Flight 447, which crashed in the Atlantic on June 1 last year. The cause of that crash has not been firmly identified.

Saleh Ali Saleh, an executive with Libya’s Afriqiyah Airways told Reuters 62 Dutch nationals had been among the passengers and crew on board the plane which crashed on Wednesday.

“Everybody is dead, except for one child,” said Libyan Transport Minister Mohamed Zidan. The plane was carrying 93 passengers and 11 crew, Libyan officials and executives from the airline said.

The minister said the survivor was 10 years old. Other Libyan officials said the child was a boy and was in a stable condition after surgery on leg fractures in a Tripoli hospital.

A manifest of those on board was not released but officials in Libya and in the passengers’ countries of origin said besides the Dutch contingent they included small numbers of nationals from Britain, Germany, the Philippines, South Africa and Zimbabwe.

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The transport minister told a news conference 13 Libyan passengers and crew had been on the aircraft. He said there were also citizens of France and Finland on board, though he did not say how many.

The minister said investigators were working out what went wrong with Afriqiyah Airways Flight 8U771. He ruled out terrorism as the cause. He said arrangements were being made to help victims’ family members come to Tripoli.

The Dutch Foreign Ministry said its diplomats were trying to see the surviving child.

Mohamed Rashid, a doctor at Tripoli’s al-Khadra hospital, said the child was doing well after surgery.

“The operation was successful and he is under our care,” he told reporters, adding that some of the medical staff spoke Dutch and were able to communicate with the patient.

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Footage broadcast on Libyan state television showed the child in a hospital bed, conscious and wearing a breathing mask. The only visible sign of any injury was a bandage around the top of the child’s head.

Saleh, the Afriqiyah Airways executive, told Reuters that the plane’s black boxes had been recovered from the crash site.

“The deaths were probably due to the impact as I did not hear any report of a fire. The plane was traveling fast as it was still short of the runway when it crashed,” Saleh said.

Slideshow ( 19 images )

Reuters pictures from the crash site showed the ground carpeted with small pieces of debris, including a Dutch-language guide book to South Africa. Only the aircraft’s tail fin was more or less intact, standing upright but leaning at an angle.

Libyan newspaper Quryna reported that shortly before the crash the pilot had contacted the control tower to ask them to alert emergency services because there was a problem with the plane. There was no official confirmation of that report.

Afriqiyah Airways, which is owned by the Libyan state and was established in 2001, has never before had a crash.

European aviation safety officials told Reuters that Afriqiyah’s aircraft -- including the plane in Wednesday’s crash -- had been subject to regular inspections and no significant problems had been reported.