PARIS – The Algerian soldier who was the sole survivor of the crash of a military jet that killed 76 joins a group of people who carry a burden unique to those who live through mass tragedy.
Just a handful of people around the world share the experience — including another Algerian soldier from a 2003 crash whose name has never been released. They often cope with debilitating and isolating guilt and injuries, according to Ky Dickens, director and co-producer of the documentary "Sole Survivor." Dickens, who began research for her film in 2010, identified 15 sole survivors around the world.
"Every lone survivor we talked to, they tended to not want to be found, not want to share their story, not want to talk about it," Dickens said.
RETURN FROM SAFARI
The 9-year-old Dutch boy was still strapped to his seat, unconscious but still breathing, his legs shattered amid the debris scattered in the Libyan desert sand. The Afriqiyah Airways Airbus crashed on approach to Tripoli, killing 103 passengers and crew on May 12, 2010. Ruben van Assouw was traveling home from a safari with his parents and brother and learned that he was the sole survivor only days later. A photo of the injured child in his hospital bed was distributed by Libyan authorities and a Dutch tabloid managed to get into his room and interview him before he knew his family was dead. He is being raised by his uncle and aunt, who said in 2011 that he hopes to return to Libya. "He wants to know what happened. And he wanted to show the Libyans how well he's doing."
PLUCKED FROM THE OCEAN
Bahia Bakari remembered little from the last moments of the Yemenia Airlines flight she took with her mother from Paris to the Comoros on June 30, 2009 — an electric shock to her body, the cries of women she could not see. Alone in the Indian Ocean darkness — 152 people died on the flight — she grabbed some debris and floated. For 10 hours the 12-year-old stayed in the water, until a passing fisherman came to her rescue. "I was without a doubt in denial, but at that moment I was certain that I was the only person who had fallen from the plane." she told French media last week. "Yes, I have scars. I am sad to have lost my mother, but my daily life is now that of a normal young girl ... An ordinary life that suits me fine. Life must continue. You can't just let it pass you by."
The co-pilot of the Comair commuter jet was pulled from the broken cockpit, the only one to emerge alive from the crash in a field in Lexington, Kentucky, that killed 49 people on Aug. 27, 2006. He has said he thinks about every action of that day when the plane wound up on a runway far too short — as do the families of all those killed. The crash spawned a series of lawsuits, including one from the co-pilot — Jim Polehinke — who filed a case against the company that designed the runway and taxiway lights. The National Transportation Safety Board found that the pilots failed to notice clues they were going down the wrong runway. "I wouldn't wish this on my worst enemy. I've cried harder than any man has ever cried or should be able to cry," he told Dickens.
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Joan Lowy contributed from Washington.