Children of Egypt are swallowed by the sea

Guest workers, holidaymakers and 36 youngsters were aboard as doomed flight GF072 plunged from the sky over Bahrain
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The Independent Online

As usual, it was a massacre of the innocents but this time with a special harvest of children. Gulf Air's flight GF072 killed 36 of them when it crashed into the steaming seas off the island of Bahrain on Wednesday night, one of the largest numbers of children to die in an air disaster in recent years.

As usual, it was a massacre of the innocents but this time with a special harvest of children. Gulf Air's flight GF072 killed 36 of them when it crashed into the steaming seas off the island of Bahrain on Wednesday night, one of the largest numbers of children to die in an air disaster in recent years.

Out of the shallow waters yesterday morning came their passports, one showing a baby in a woollen wrap, another a small boy smiling into the camera of a photo-booth.

Mohamed el-Naggar turned up at Bahrain airport to find that his cousin, her husband and their two children - aged two and three - were all killed.

The other passengers - two Britons among them - were the usual mixture of holidaymakers, guest workers and family relatives, their bodies so badly crushed by the Airbus A320's nose-dive impact that relatives in Bahrain were shown only photographs of the dead to identify husbands, wives and children.

Every body was recovered - the plane's wreckage was lying in water sometimes only 10ft deep - but divers and boat crews were anxious to find all the remains before the Gulf's massive swarms of fish moved into the area.

Egypt has suffered twice in less than a year, losing almost 200 Egyptians aboard Egyptair flight MS990 over the Atlantic and now 63 - almost half the complement of the 143 passengers and crew on the Airbus. Like many Egyptians - living in an historically rich but near-bankrupt country - Rida Hassan worked in a restaurant in Bahrain, and had been visiting Cairo for a month to get married before catching GF072 back to his work. Remittances from Egyptians abroad produce Egypt's biggest source of foreign exchange.

There were the usual terrible scenes of grief at both Cairo and Bahrain airports as officials either failed to provide information or instead read out the names of the dead to horrified relatives. In Bahrain, they were taken to a hotel in the capital, Manama. In Egypt, which specialises in inadvertently tormenting grief-stricken families, Egyptian staff of Gulf Air failed to produce a passenger list for the flight - even though they had checked the doomed men, women and children aboard only a few hours earlier, collecting their names on boarding cards as they left the departure lounge.

Airbus Industrie was sending its own team of investigators to Bahrain yesterday to examine the debris and the flight recorders which were both discovered intact.

Bahrain air traffic control says that the aircraft made two turns over the airport before crashing; fishermen saw the big jet turn tail up and dive into the sea nose first. One said the plane exploded, although wreckage suggested the aircraft had simply broken up under the impact. Among the detritus poking up from the sea-floor was a large piece of fuselage bearing Gulf Air's familiar golden falcon logo.

The passenger manifesto in Bahrain showed that the Cairo-Bahrain flight, as well as the 63 Egyptians was carrying 34 Bahrainis, 12 Saudis, nine Palestinians, six citizens of the United Arab Emirates, three Chinese women - all visiting husbands who work at the Xinhua news agency's Cairo office - the two Britons and individual passport-holders from Canada, Oman, Kuwait, Sudan and Australia.

The eight crew were from Bahrain, Oman, the Phillipines, Poland, India, Egypt and Morocco. One American - apparently carrying diplomatic mail - was also aboard.

US naval ships from the 5th Fleet - headquartered in Bahrain as guests of the ever pro-Western Emir - took part in the initial search, with two destroyers and a naval rescue tug circling the deeper waters off the coast.

All night, US SH-60 Sea Hawk helicopters had moved slowly above the waves, searching with floodlights for survivors. There were none.

The airline's safety standards were regarded in the region as reasonable, although some passengers could also be a little eccentric. The last time I travelled on Gulf Air, the passenger sitting beside me was a robed Bahraini with a hooded falcon which perched on his left arm throughout the flight.

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