Saturday, 4 July 2009

Child survivors

It has now been revealed that the sole survivor of Tuesday’s air crash off the Comoros islands in the Indian Ocean was only 12 years old. Baya Bakari had been travelling with her mother who was among the 152 people killed.

Twenty-four years ago, in the world’s worst disaster involving a single aircraft, two children were among just four people who survived out of 524 on board. When rescuers reached the JAL jumbo which had hit a mountain ridge in Japan, they found two girls aged eight and 12, along with two women aged 25 and 34.

Children have been the only people left alive in a number of other air disasters. A three year old boy was the sole survivor of an air crash in Sudan in 2003 that killed 116. A nine year old girl alone escaped from a flight that blew up over Colombia in 1995, while two years later a one year old Thai boy was the lone survivor from an airliner that came down near Phnom Penh airport in Cambodia. According to one analyst, there have been 13 air accidents since 1970 where only one person survived, and in six cases that sole survivor was a child.

So is it just coincidence, or do children have a better chance of coming out alive? There are a number of theories. One is that aircraft seats offer better protection to smaller bodies – adults are more likely to be hit on the head or legs, and killed or injured, by flying debris. In addition, bones grow more brittle as we get older, and some believe that the human body reaches its maximum vigour at about the age of 11. There is also a suggestion that children may be better able to survive in water – a factor that may have helped Baya Bakari.

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