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Sole survivor of 2009 plane crash testifies in Paris court

PARIS (AP) — The lone survivor of a 2009 plane crash in the Indian Ocean took the stand Monday in a Paris court, recounting her ordeal as a 12-year-old girl heard screams, s clung to floating debris and hoped desperately that her mother was still alive.

Bahia Bakari’s mother was among 152 people who died on the flight operated by Yemen Airways, now known as Yemenia.

Composed throughout her testimony, Bakari cried as she mourned the loss of her mother. Others in the courtroom also began to cry.

Bakari, dressed all in white and praised for her bravery by judges and lawyers, delivered poignant testimony in an emotionally charged room.

“We were landing, I started to feel some turbulence but people didn’t seem worried. Then I felt an electric shock and woke up in the water. I don’t remember what happened between sitting on the plane and being in the water. I have a black hole,” Bakari said.

The Yemeni national carrier is charged with manslaughter and involuntary injury in the crash, which happened at 11:53 p.m., killing 141 passengers and 11 crew members. Sixty-five of the dead were French citizens.

Now 25, Bakari was 12 when she flew with her mother to Comoros off the east coast of Africa to attend a wedding. The plane departed from Paris, made a stopover in Marseille, in the south of France, and then landed in Sanaa. Bakari described switching to a smaller plane to fly from the Yemeni capital to Moroni in the Comoros. It was a night flight and Bakari remembers that “everyone was exhausted”.

After the plane plunged into the ocean, she grabbed a floating part of the wrecked plane and remained in the water for 11 hours before being rescued by fishermen.

Bakari remembers hearing “female voices crying out for help in Comorian” at the start. She then fell asleep and woke up alone: ​​”It was so long. I almost gave up. I almost lost hope. Thinking of my mother helped me to hold on. I convinced myself that everyone but me got home safely.

As the hours passed, she said, “I lost track of time when I was in the water.”

After her rescue, Bakari was transported to Moroni hospital and then repatriated to France. Bakari suffered a broken collarbone, a broken hip, burns and other injuries.

Today, “I don’t suffer from any physical damage, but my mother is gone. I was very close to her”, she says in tears.

The young woman, who now works in real estate, has two younger siblings and mostly relied on her father who helped her deal with the trauma. She did not seek therapy after leaving the hospital.

“I didn’t feel comfortable talking to a stranger. I was close to my family,” she said.

Bakari said she is “much better now” and resumed flying two years after the accident. She says she doesn’t suffer from traumatic flashbacks, but she’s not comfortable in the water.

Bakari was unable to attend her mother’s funeral because she was still in hospital, but said she considered herself lucky because her mother’s body had been identified and she had a proper grave. .

Bakari, who describes herself as “a proud Comorian”, stood alongside more than 250 plaintiffs, most of whom are from the Comoros, in a crowded courtroom. The trial was broadcast live in a courtroom in Marseille, where many victims came from.

She co-wrote a book “Bahia, the Miracle Girl” and told the court she did it for the victim’s loved ones, to “leave them something to hold on to”.

Despite the pain of reliving the memories, she said she felt relieved to have a trial, even so many years later.

In 2015, the airline was ordered in civil proceedings by two French courts to pay more than 30 million euros (31.6 million dollars) to the families of the victims, who deplored the slowness of the procedure between France and the Comoros. , a former colony that became independent in 1975.

In 2018, a confidential agreement was signed between the airline and 835 beneficiaries, who had to wait several more years to receive compensation.

No company representative attended the Paris trial. Bakari lamented the absence and said she wanted the company to apologize.

The trial ends on June 2. The airline faces a fine of up to 225,000 euros ($237,000).


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