PARIS – Protesters linked arms across an entrance at Paris' main airport on Friday to keep passengers off a Yemeni flight to Comoros on a route that saw a deadly crash this week after years of complaints about dangerous conditions to the Indian Ocean island nation.
Many in the Comoran community in France are angry that it took Tuesday's accident, which killed 152 people on Yemenia airlines' Paris-Moroni flight, to focus attention on the problems. They say that since 2004 they have been complaining about dangerous planes, unhelpful crews and stopovers in the Yemeni capital of San'a that last hours or days in stifling heat with little information and few basic services from the Yemeni airline.
Dozens of protesters gathered outside Charles de Gaulle's Terminal 3 and blocked passengers entering the terminal, shouting at passengers not to take the Yemenia flight.
Only 72 passengers ended up boarding the plane, which has a capacity of 180, and the flight didn't take off until noon, three hours after its scheduled departure, an airport official said on condition of anonymity because she was not authorized to speak to the media. She said, however, that the protest did not appear to have caused the delay.
French Transport Minister Dominique Bussereau warned that Yemenia risked inclusion on a European Union list of banned airlines.
Khaled el-Wazeer, the Yemeni transportation minister, said that his government will provide documents within a week showing how the airline deals with technical problems on planes, a measure the EU has called necessary to keep it off the blacklist.
On Thursday, hundreds of shouting demonstrators at Marseille's airport tried to block passengers from boarding a Yemenia flight to the Comoran capital.
The airline said it was indefinitely suspending its flights from the Mediterranean port city to Moroni.
"SOS Trips to Comoros," a passenger group formed to push for better conditions, said that it had complained to airline officials as early as 2004 that planes on the route were unsafe.
Yemeni officials brushed aside the concerns, saying "that if their planes didn't meet standards they wouldn't put their crew on it," member Zalifa Youssouf told The Associated Press by telephone Friday. Yemeni officials issued no public statement on the group's claims Friday.
Ships continued to search for survivors, bodies and wreckage from Yemenia Flight 626, which went down in heavy winds off the coast of the Comoros islands. Hopes of finding anyone alive in the choppy seas were dim.
A 12-year-old girl was rescued after clinging to floating wreckage for more than 13 hours, suffering from hypothermia, a fractured collarbone and widespread bruises to her face, elbow and foot. Her mother was presumed dead.
Bahia Bakari returned to France aboard a French government plane on Thursday and was hospitalized in Paris.
"She is very lucid, very conscious (and) I was able to speak with her," President Nicolas Sarkozy told RTL radio after visiting her.