[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/WORLD/meast/07/01/yemen.plane.survivor/art.bakari.afp.gi.jpg caption="Kassim Bakari said he thought he would never see his wife or daughter again after learning of the crash. "]
CNN Senior Executive Producer
It wasn’t the Hudson River. It wasn’t a soft landing. It wasn’t a happy ending. When the Yemenia Airlines Airbus went down in the rough seas of the Indian Ocean, 152 people perished. Everyone on board. Everyone except a 14-year-old girl named Bahia Bakari. The way her father describes her, Bahia did not fit the profile of a survivor. She could “barely swim” her father told the Associated Press. She was, he said, a fragile, timid girl.
Bahia was on the plane with her mother, flying from their home in Paris, to Yemen, then on to the Comoros Islands off the southeast coast of Africa to visit Bahia’s grandma. Their flight was approaching the Comoros when it disappeared from the radar. With the wind blowing at nearly 40 miles an hour, the plane went down in the choppy seas of the Indian Ocean. Bahia’s father, back in Paris, recounted for the AP what his daughter told him over the phone. “Papa, we saw the plane going down in the water. I was in the water. I could hear people talking, but I couldn’t see anyone. I was in the dark. I couldn’t see a thing. On top of that, daddy, I can’t swim well and I held onto something, but I don’t really know what.”
Whatever she held on to, she never let go. Somehow, this timid girl, this weak swimmer, suddenly cast into a dark sea, held on – for five hours by one account - 12 hours according to another. Bahia survived with a broken collarbone. One can only imagine the trauma she feels.
Bahia did what any 14-year-old child would do after such an ordeal. She asked for her mother. Her uncle, who visited her in a Comoros hospital, couldn’t bear to tell her the truth. Your mother, he says he told her, is in the next room. One thing child psychologists advise is never lie to a child. Don’t necessarily volunteer details that they’re not prepared to hear. But don’t lie. Bahia’s father says he does not know who is going to break the news to his daughter. “I can’t tell her,” he says. Perhaps he can tell her this. That they’re still searching for her mother. That’s true. But not the whole truth. A transitional truth.
We hope to hear more from Bahia’s father in the coming days. And maybe we will learn more about how a girl who was timid on the surface, found such strength inside herself.
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