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13 Bodies Found in Tanzania, Possibly Linked to Yemenia Airways Crash

Thirteen bodies, a plane seat and a piece of metal stamped "Airbus" washed ashore in Tanzania and French investigators were trying to determine Wednesday if they were linked to the Yemenia Airways plane crash hundreds of miles away.

Manzie Mangochie, district commissioner for Tanzania's largely undeveloped Mafia Island, said the bodies appeared to be of both African and European descent and included three women.

Yemenia Airways Flight 626 crashed June 30 while trying to land in the Comoros Islands with 153 passengers aboard. Only a 12-year-old girl survived. Up until now, very little plane debris and no bodies have been found by searchers combing the waters north of Comoros.

But the east African coast has strong currents during the monsoon season that may have swept the wreckage and the bodies nearly 500 miles (800 kilometers) from the Comoros to Mafia Island.

Two French investigators were on the scene to help with identification, Mangochie said, but search operations were being hampered by bad weather. The bodies have been taken to a local hospital.

The 13 bodies were found near a plane seat and what appeared to be part of a wing with the inscription "Airbus," the make of the missing plane, according to Tanzanian police spokesman Mohammed Mhina. Two Tanzanian ships and two helicopters were helping local fishermen and officials search further.

Teams from the French aviation investigation agency BEA and the French navy are still searching for the plane's black boxes off the Comoran coast.

French Foreign Ministry spokesman Eric Chevallier said France was "cooperating fully and in all transparency with all the parties concerned by this tragedy."

He declined to comment on threats by Yemenia Airways to cancel Airbus orders following criticism of the plane's safety record by French officials.

"The main thing at this point is to find bodies of victims, as well as for the needs of the investigation, the aircraft's black boxes," he said.

Investigators have reportedly concluded that the black boxes — the plane's cockpit voice and flight data recorders — lie in waters too deep for divers and are awaiting specialized robots that can operate underwater. The robots are due in the Comoros this Sunday.

Protests in France over conditions on Yemenia planes have drawn thousands of people. Critics claim the airline uses good planes for trips in Europe and worse planes for the trip from Yemen to the Comoros Islands, an Indian Ocean archipelago.