Bruised, legs broken, lone plane crash survivor recovering
9-year-old had gone with family on S. Africa safari
TRIPOLI, Libya — The Dutch family was headed home from a dream safari in South Africa when the plane plunged to Earth in Libya. Rescuers found a single passenger alive: 9-year-old Ruben van Assouw, still strapped in his seat.
The sole survivor slept peacefully yesterday, a stuffed orange Tigger tucked under his arm in a hospital room filled with bouquets of flowers. His left eye, forehead, and slim torso were marked with bruises and scrapes; his left leg was immobilized in a blue and white cast.
Ruben smiled and spoke briefly to an aunt and uncle who rushed to his bedside from Holland, but has yet to be told his parents and 11-year-old brother are dead.
“He’s awake. He’s talking. He is listening,’’ a Dutch Foreign Ministry official, Ed Kronenburg, said after visiting the boy. “Of course he also sleeps quite a lot because he got anesthesia yesterday and is still a bit dizzy.’’
The child was recovering well after 4 1/2 hours of surgery to repair multiple fractures to his legs, Kronenburg said.
Ruben, his brother Enzo, and their parents, Trudy and Patrick van Assouw, had gone to South Africa during the boys’ spring school vacation to celebrate the couple’s 12 1/2-year wedding anniversary, a Dutch tradition.
In his travel blog, Patrick van Assouw wrote about the camping trip that took them through some of the world’s most spectacular natural wonders — South Africa’s Mac Mac Falls, the Kruger National Park game reserve, and across the border into Swaziland and on to Lesotho.
Pictures he posted included one showing Ruben and Enzo posing in front of the waterfalls.
“We ran into a very large number of impalas, which we nicknamed deers,’’ he wrote. “Enzo’s second find was the elephant. Also saw buffalo, gnu, fox, zebra, more deer, ostrich, a lot of birds, turtle, giraffe, apes, boar, more deer.’’
The following day the family encountered two rhinos, and later in the trip they saw a hippo, he wrote in the entry posted Monday — the day before the family boarded the ill-fated return flight.
Their Libyan-owned jetliner was minutes from landing in Tripoli on Wednesday after a more than seven-hour journey across Africa when it crashed into a sandy field at the edge of the runway, killing 103 people.
Ruben was found by rescuers who noticed the boy was breathing, said a Libyan safety official, Colonel Baloul al-Khoja. Three victims’ bodies were nearby.
The child was semiconscious and unresponsive, bleeding from wounds to his legs, Khoja said. As rescuers moved him, he grimaced in pain.
Kronenburg said the child was discovered about half a mile from the tail section of the Airbus A330-200, indicating he may have been sitting in the front of the aircraft. Aside from the tail, little was left of the Afriqiyah Airways plane.
Among the bits of fuselage were a romance novel, “Zoete Tranen,’’ — Dutch for “Sweet Tears.’’ A charred boot, black high-heeled shoe and a motorcycle jacket with Marlboro and Ferrari logos were nearby.