July 8, 2009 / 2:39 PM / 9 years ago

Airbus wreckage, bodies found off Tanzania

* 8 bodies, Airbus wreckage recovered off Tanzania * One body flown by helicopter to Dar es Salaam

By George Obulutsa

MAFIA, Tanzania, July 8 (Reuters) - Tanzanian police recovered a piece of aircraft wreckage from the Yemeni Airbus that plunged into the sea off the Indian Ocean island of Comoros last week, a Reuters witness said on Wednesday.

Mafia District Commissioner Manzie Mangochie said that of about 13 bodies spotted earlier this week, authorities had now recovered eight.

A small metal tag with the words “Deutsche Airbus GmBH” was riveted onto the white debris found off the remote Mafia Island, which lies off the east African country of Tanzania, about 500 km (300 miles) from the crash site.

Two men hauled the large, flat piece of plane debris through dense scrub. Others carried a body wrapped in plastic sheeting found near the debris and three more people in white bodybags were lying in the back of a police Land Rover.

Tanzania said on Tuesday bodies that appeared to be from the doomed Yemeni Airbus 310-300 that crashed into the Indian Ocean off the Comoros archipelago last week had been seen floating off Mafia Island, along with plane debris.

Only one survivor out of 153 people on board — a Franco-Comoran girl — was found. Bahia Bakari, who can barely swim, clung on to floating debris for more than 12 hours before search teams spotted her struggling in rough seas.

The hunt for other survivors was abandoned this week.

Rescue teams in the Indian Ocean archipelago of Comoros have detected a signal from the plane’s flight recorders but say it could take a while to reach the wreck as it is in deep water.

Attempts to retrieve the corpses from the ocean around Mafia Island were being hampered by rough seas.

“We are working under very difficult conditions,” Mafia district commissioner Mangochie told Reuters, pointing to high waves pounding the inaccessible, rocky island coast.

FLOWN TO DAR ES SALAAM

A fifth body, retrieved along with a red handbag with white spots, was flown by helicopter from the island to Tanzania’s main city Dar es Salaam.

The airline said there were 75 Comoran passengers on board, along with 65 French nationals, one Palestinian and one Canadian. The crew comprised six Yemenis, two Moroccans, one Indonesian, one Ethiopian and a Filipina.

Rescuers in the Comoros suspect many of the dead remain trapped inside the doomed plane and say the search effort should focus on finding the wreck, believed to be in waters up to 500 metres (1,600 ft) deep.

It was not immediately clear which part of the plane had been found.

Parts for Airbus planes are made in four European countries. The A310s, which are no longer in production, were assembled in Toulouse, France. German-made parts included the vertical tail, the forward and rear fuselage and the speed brakes.

Officials say the cause of the crash remains unknown. The plane plunged into the sea after trying to land in bad weather.

The aircraft, which was on the final leg of a trip from Paris and Marseille, was the second Airbus to crash into the sea in a month. (Additional reporting by Tim Hepher in Paris; Writing by David Clarke; Editing by Giles Elgood)

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