MORONI, Comoros – Doe Cyrille and his crew searched for hours in crashing winds and waves up to 16 feet high for any sign of Yemenia Flight 626. Then they spotted a girl impossibly clinging to a piece of debris.
Cyrille, a merchant marine from Madagascar, had been heading with a team of rescuers toward a distress signal after the plane crashed Tuesday in the Indian Ocean off the coast of this former French colony. Bahia Bakari, 12, was the only survivor of the crash. The other 152 people on board — including Bahia's mother — are presumed dead.
In a handwritten report, obtained Saturday by The Associated Press, Cyrille writes that the crew saw a girl "trying to get on to a piece of wood or plastic." French officials have said she was afloat for 13 hours.
A member of the rescue team threw a life preserver to the girl, but the waters were too rough for her to catch it.
One of the sailors, Libouna Maturaffe Soulemane — who had completed a rescue course six months earlier — jumped into the sea with a flotation device and reached out to Bahia.
"When I saw the girl, I was not afraid to dive in," Soulemane told The Associated Press. "She was calm ... She knew what she was doing," said Soulemane. "The girl is very courageous."
The crew on board Sima Com 2 threw the life buoy again towards Soulemane and the girl and pulled them to the boat.
Once on board, Maj. Said Ali Madi, a gendarme at the port of Moroni who was on board Sima Com 2, asked Bakari to remove her clothes so they could give her something dry to wear, says Soulemane.
But the shy girl refused.
Madi then began cutting away bits of her clothing as crew members wrapped her with two beige bed covers and a curtain.
Cyrille sailed the Sima Com 2 back to Port Moroni where they arrived at 19:25 p.m. and handed over Bahia to medical authorities.
Apart from hypothermia, she suffered a fractured collarbone and bruises to her face, elbow and foot.
Bahia returned to France aboard a French government plane on Thursday and is hospitalized in Paris.
Ships and military planes continue to search for survivors, bodies and wreckage from Yemenia Flight 626. Hopes of finding anyone alive in the choppy seas were dim.