IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Dutch crash survivor learns of family’s death

A Dutch Foreign Ministry official said that the 9-year-old boy who is the sole survivor of a plane crash in Libya has been told that his parents and brother died in the disaster.
9 Year-old Ruben van Assouw in his hospital bed in Tripoli's El Khadra hospital, Libya on Thursday.
9 Year-old Ruben van Assouw in his hospital bed in Tripoli's El Khadra hospital, Libya on Thursday. ANDREW MEDICHINI / AP
/ Source: NBC, and news services

Relatives broke the news to a Dutch boy who is the sole survivor of a plane crash in Libya that his parents and brother died in the disaster, as authorities said the 9-year-old would return home on Saturday.

Rescuers found Ruben van Assouw still strapped in his seat and breathing in an area of desert sand strewn with the plane's debris. His father, mother and 11-year-old brother are believed to have been among the 103 people on board who were killed Wednesday when their flight from South Africa crashed short of the runway in Tripoli.

Since then, he has been undergoing treatment at a Tripoli hospital, with an aunt and uncle who rushed in from Amsterdam at his bedside.

On Friday, his aunt and uncle released a statement saying they had told the boy of the deaths of his parents, Trudy and Patrick van Assouw, and his brother, Enzo.

"Under the circumstances Ruben is doing well. He sleeps a lot. Now and then he is awake and then he is alert," they said in the statement.

"We told Ruben this morning exactly what happened. He knows his parents and brother are dead. The whole family is going to bear the responsibility for Ruben's future," they said.

"We have two kinds of sorrow to deal with, because Ruben is in a terrible situation, but we have also lost family members," they said, adding for respect for their privacy. "The coming time will be a difficult period for us."

Dutch Foreign Ministry official Ed Kronenburg said Ruben would be taken home to the Netherlands on Saturday on a Libyan medical evacuation flight.

The child was recovering well after 4 1/2 hours of surgery to repair multiple fractures to his legs.

"He's OK. He's not getting any worse. He's progressing quite well," said orthopedic specialist Sadig Bendala.

The doctor said many factors could have played a role in his stunning survival, including where he was seated in the plane.

"It's something from God, that he wanted him to live longer," Bendala told The Associated Press.

Cannot remember crash
The boy, contacted by phone by a Dutch newspaper, said he could not remember the crash.

"I don't know how I got here, I don't know anything else," he told a reporter from De Telegraaf. "I just want to get going. I want to get washed, dressed, and then go."

The newspaper said a doctor handed his mobile phone to the boy to let him talk to its reporter.

The interview angered Dutch officials since the foreign minister had asked the press to respect the boy's privacy and not contact relatives of the victims, the Dutch state broadcaster NOS reported.

Saif al-Gaddafi, son of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, also visited Ruben on Thursday, NBC reported.

Most of those on board the Afriqiyah Airways flight from Johannesburg were Dutch tourists.

The Airbus 330-200 may have been attempting a go-around in poor visibility caused by sunlit haze, safety officials and pilots familiar with the airport said Thursday.

Both black boxes, the cockpit voice recorder and the flight data recorder, were immediately recovered at the crash site in the capital, Tripoli. Investigators from the United States, France, South Africa and the Netherlands are helping Libya with the probe.

Identifying the dead
Dutch forensics teams will start work with Libyan officials to identify the bodies over the coming week, Kronenburg said. They also want to return personal items to relatives of the victims, he said.

Relatives of the dead will be asked to provide descriptions of what they were wearing and what personal belongings to help identify them, said lead Dutch investigator Dann Noort.

"We try to collect information about the victims and try to get DNA, fingerprints and dental records," Noort said.

A National Transportation Safety Board team of investigators from the United States is to arrive Friday since the plane's engines were made by U.S. manufacturer General Electric. The team will include an NTSB engines specialist as well as technical advisers from the Federal Aviation Administration and General Electric.

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, posted photographs and 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.

Ruben suffered four fractures to his legs and lost a lot of blood, Dr. Hameeda al-Saheli, head of the pediatric ward, told the Libyan news agency JANA. But his neck, head and face were not seriously injured, and a large bandage placed on his head after the crash had been removed Thursday.