A Libyan airliner arriving from South Africa disintegrated on landing at Tripoli airport Wednesday, killing 103 people but leaving an eight-year-old boy as the sole miracle survivor, officials said.
Libyan Transport Minister Mohammed Ali Zidan said the dead included nationals of nine countries but that a full 61 came from the Netherlands, which ordered flags on government buildings flown at half-mast as a mark of respect.
Zidan said the boy who survived was also Dutch but the foreign ministry in The Hague was unable to confirm his nationality definitively.
Some nine hours after the 6 am (0400 GMT) crash, the child underwent surgery at a Tripoli hospital where medical staff said his condition was not life-threatening.
|A closeup shows the tail of an Afriqiyah Airways passenger plane which crashed during landing at Tripoli airport.|
Dutch broadcaster NOS, which interrupted normal programming to follow the crash developments, showed footage of the survivor with facial bruises in his hospital bed.
The Dutch daily Telegraaf said the child had been travelling with his parents and an 11-year-old sibling.
EU parliament president Jerzy Buzek described the boy's survival as "truly a miracle."
Last June, a 12-year-old girl was the sole survivor of a Yemeni plane crash off the Comoros.
The Libyan transport minister said the rest of the dead included two Germans as well as passengers from Britain, France, Finland, the Philippines, South Africa and Zimbabwe, although he could not give a breakdown of their numbers.
He said the 11-strong crew were all Libyan.
In London, the Foreign Office confirmed that at least one Briton had been on board the fated flight, while in Dublin, Foreign Minister Micheal Martin said an Irishwoman was among the dead. It was unclear if she was a dual national.
The South African Press Agency reported that four nationals were killed. They included the brother of opposition Democratic Alliance member of parliament Anchen Dreyer, the party said.
Zidan said an inquiry was under way into what caused the Afriqiyah Airways Airbus A330 to break up massively as it was landing, but he ruled out terrorism.
He said that both black boxes had been recovered and that four investigators from Airbus and three from France were on their way to Tripoli to join the inquiry.
Witnesses spoke of the aircraft inexplicably breaking up as it came in to land in clear weather.
"It exploded on landing and totally disintegrated," one security official told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity. Another official said the plane had burst into flames just before landing.
Libyan television showed teams of emergency workers wearing face masks sifting through the wreckage, which was scattered in a wide arc across the landing area.
Dutch Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen said it was just possible that fewer than 61 nationals died as that figure was based on booking lists provided by travel agencies not on a manifest of those who actually boarded.
A plane with Dutch forensic experts and consular staff would depart for Tripoli on Wednesday night to help identify the dead and provide support on the ground, Verhagen added.
Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende reacted with "shock" to the loss of life while Queen Beatrix's press office said she was "horrified."
The Libyan transport minister said that the crash plane was new and had only been acquired by the airline last September.
He said it had received its last mechanical check from German airline Lufthansa in Milan on March 5 and had since flown only 1,586 hours.
Wednesday's crash was the deadliest air accident in Libya since December 22, 1992 when a Libyan Arab Airlines plane crashed near Tripoli airport killing 157 people.
Twenty-two people were killed in an oil company plane crash in January 2000.
In other major accidents, 79 people were killed when a Korean Air plane crashed in Tripoli in July 1989. And 59 people died in a Balkan Bulgarian Airlines crash near Benghazi in December 1977.
Afriqiyah started operations with five leased aircraft and signed a contract with Airbus at an exhibition in Paris in 2007 for the purchase of 11 new planes.
It was founded in April 2001 and at first fully owned by the Libyan state. The company?s capital was later divided into shares to be managed by the Libya-Africa Investment Portfolio.