'Miracle' survivor is recovering after Libyan plane crash

TRIPOLI, Libya -- A 10-year-old Dutch boy lay in a hospital bed, head bandaged, skin pale and legs shattered -- the lone "miracle" survivor of a plane crash Wednesday that killed 103 people in the Libyan capital. Most victims were Dutch tourists returning from vacation in South Africa.

Little was known about the dark-haired boy, who was rushed to a hospital in Tripoli, where he underwent surgery for multiple leg fractures.

The barely conscious child muttered "Holland! Holland!" after he was found, a Dutch official said.

Libyan TV footage showed the boy, one eye bruised and swollen closed, breathing through an oxygen mask with intravenous lines connected to his body and a monitor at his bedside.

Doctors later said he was out of danger.

The boy appeared groggy as he was tended by a doctor in green scrubs and by a veiled, gloved and masked nurse. The injured youngster wore a crisp pink gown and lay on a blue disposable pad. A bandage of layers of white gauze and hand-lettered with the date -- 5/12 -- covered his head.

The Libyan jetliner crashed minutes before landing after a more than seven-hour flight from Johannesburg. Little remained of the Afriqiyah Airways Airbus aside from its tail, painted with the airline's logo.

Sixty-one victims were Dutch, many of them families headed home after spending spring break in South Africa, according to the Royal Dutch Tourism Board.

Authorities released no names.

Officials had no immediate explanation for the boy's survival. The head of the European Parliament, Jerzy Buzek, called it "truly a miracle."

However, aviation experts said that lone survivors, while rare, are not unknown. There have been at least five cases this decade of a single survivor in a commercial plane crash. Last summer, a girl was found clinging to wreckage 13 hours after a plane went down in the water off the Comoros Islands.

"The idea of a lone survivor might seem a fluke, but it has happened several times," said Patrick Smith, an American airline pilot and aviation author. "The sole survivor of last year's Yemenia crash off the Comoros Islands was a 12-year-old."

William Voss, president of the Flight Safety Foundation in Alexandria, Va., said sometimes children survive because they're small.

"As far as children are concerned, the only thing we can reasonably say is that some children survive because of their size, because it's easier for them to be protected during impact," he said.

However, John Nance, an aviation safety expert and retired airline pilot, said that because commercial jet crashes are infrequent and each is different, there's not enough evidence to say children have an advantage.

Although children weigh less and are more flexible, many infants and children die in crashes because they aren't properly restrained, he said.

"We've lost a lot of kids in a few accidents," Nance said, noting that a child becomes "a missile" if not strapped in.

Flags were lowered in mourning Wednesday throughout the Netherlands, and campaigning for parliamentary elections was suspended.

Prayers were also offered in South Africa.

"We thank God for the sole survivor. In his survival, we see that even in this dark cloud of death, there is this ray of hope," said the Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town, Thabo Makgoba.

The cause of the crash is being investigated, but authorities have ruled out a terrorist attack.