1. Sole survivor of plane crash - girl, 13 - saved by falling luggage
Details of how the 13-year-old escaped with her life after the single-engined Cessna craft crashed into a volcano, killing three others, were revealed yesterday.
She miraculously survived not only the impact but also two-and-a-half days without food or water, pinned upside-down in her seat and dressed only in shorts and a T-shirt.
Speaking outside the hospital where Francesca is recovering, her stunned uncle, Peter Lewis, said last night: "She doesn't have a single broken bone and the only evidence she was in any trouble is a few scratches.
"This morning she was able to shower by herself and we are amazed.
"She's in remarkable shape, considering what she's been through."
The three others aboard the plane - Francesca's best friend, Talia Klein, 13, Talia's millionaire
father, Michael Klein, 37, and pilot Edwin Lasso, 23 - died instantly.
The girls, who went to school together in Santa Barbara, California, were on holiday in Panama.
Mr Lewis, a property developer, added: "We expect to go home in a day or two.
"The only thing distressing her is the attention she's getting.
"She knows what happened to the others but doesn't remember much.
"It's important to the family that we meet her rescuers.
"We will be forever grateful to them for saving a precious life."
Scores of rescuers searched the jungle for Francesca in freezing fog, wind and heavy rain. Most were unaware a £12,500 reward had been offered.
Her saviour was electrician Miguel Vurac, 32, who spotted one of the plane's wings hanging from a tree through his binoculars.
"My first impression was that no one had survived," he said.
"Then we heard a voice saying: 'Help me'. We were stunned."
Rescuers found Francesca facedown, strapped in her seat and covered in bags and clothing that had tumbled on to her.
They wrapped her in a blanket and a rubbish sack overnight before making a five-hour trek to safety on Boxing Day.
Dr Samuel Cattan, of the Mae Lewis Medical Centre in the Panamanian city of David, where Francesca is being treated, said: "Frankie was suffering shock, hypothermia and dehydration, but she should be going home soon."
2. Bahia Bakari: The 14-year-old sole survivor of a Yemenia Airways crash
Bahia Bakari is a French schoolgirl who became famous as the sole survivor of Yemenia Flight 626, which crashed into the Indian Ocean near the north coast of Grande Comore, Comoros on June 30, 2009, killing all other 152 people on board. Bakari, who could barely swim and had no life vest, clung to aircraft wreckage in heavy seas for more than 13 hours, much of it in darkness, before being rescued by the Sima Com 2, a privately owned ship. As soon as Bakari was sighted, a member of the rescue team threw her a life preserver, but the waters were too rough, and she was too exhausted to grab it. One of the sailors, Maturaffi Sélémane Libounah, jumped into the water and handed her the flotation device, after which they were both pulled safely aboard the Sima Com 2. Her mother, who had been traveling with her from Paris, for a summer vacation in Comoros, died in the crash.
3. 10-Year-Old Joins 13 Other Lone Survivors of Major Plane Crashes
The child is believed to be the world's 14th sole survivor of major plane crash.
Some of the survivors relished the spotlight and used their sudden celebrity status to lobby for political changes, while others shunned the media and tried to live a normal a life as possible. Others disappeared off the media radar, and a handful of others were never publicly identified, according to airsafe.com.
1. A 22-year-old flight attendant was the lone survivor on Jan. 27, 1972, when a DC-9 Yugoslav Airlines plane plummeted 33,300 feet into the snow near Hermsdorf, Czechoslovakia, after a bomb on board an hour into the flight. Vesna Vulovic was reportedly in the tail portion of the plane as it fell, and a food tray - acting like a seatbelt - held her against it.
The crash left her temporarily paralyzed and in a coma for 27 days. All 22 passengers and five of the six crew members were killed.
A man said to be a member of a Croatian terrorist group claimed responsibility for the bombing.
Vulovic instantly became a national hero and made the Guinness Book of World Records in 1985 for the highest fall survived without a parachute.
She is a frequent guest on television shows and uses her status to promote political change. In 2008 she campaigned for the Democratic Party of President Boris Tadic, and told the New York Times: "My mission is to prevent Serbia from falling into the same hands that destroyed Serbia in the 1990s."
2. In January of 1985 a Lockheed L-188 Electra 4-engine turboprop plane operated by Galaxy Airlines crashed shortly after takeoff in Reno, Nev., instantly killing all but three of the 71 passengers. Two of them later died, leaving 17-year-old George Lamson Jr. as the lone survivor.
Lamson was reportedly thrown from the aircraft and landed upright, still in his seat.
"I ran away and the plane blew up and it knocked me down," Lamson told Time Magazine shortly after the crash.
According to a National Transportation Safety Board report, the crash was caused by the captain's failure to control and the co-pilot's failure to properly monitor the speed of the aircraft and to monitor the flight path.
3. An engine problem that occurred shortly after takeoff from Abidjan, Ivory Coast, caused a Varig Airlines Boeing 707 to crash 11 miles from the airport on Jan. 3, 1987.
The 12-person crew was killed. At least two of the 39 passengers were pulled from the wreckage alive, but only one survived -- Neuba Tessoh, an Ivory Coast University professor.
The plane reportedly had an unknown problem with the left engine as it departed for Rio de Janeiro, and it crashed into a forest while attempting to return to the airport.
4. Northwest Airlines Flight 255 crashed on Aug. 16, 1987, leaving 4-year-old Cecelia Cichan as the lone survivor.
The plane had immediate problems during takeoff and hit a light pole near the end of the runway at Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport in Romulus, Mich. It then hit the roof of a building before slamming into several cars and light poles on a busy highway.
All six crew members and 148 of the passengers were killed, as well as two people on the ground. The NTSB attributed cause to the flight crew's failure to correctly set the flaps for takeoff.
Cecelia's parents and brother were killed in the crash. She was raised by relatives in Alabama, who kept her out of the public spotlight. Cichan reportedly graduated from the University of Alabama in 2006 with a degree in psychology.
5. Annette Herfkens, 31, was the only survivor when the Vietnam Airlines plane she was on crashed into a mountain near Nha Trang on Nov. 14, 1992.
It took eight days for rescue crews to reach the wreckage. By then all six crew members and 24 of the 25 passengers were dead. Some reports say Herfkens told authorities that other survivors died while waiting to be rescued.
6. A charter Avioimpex Yak 42D traveling from Geneva to Skopje crashed into Mount Trojani on Nov. 20, 1993.
Eight crew members died and 115 of the 116 passengers were killed.
7 . Erika Delgado, 9, survived the mid-air explosion of an Intercontinental Airlines DC-9 in March 17, 1995, near Cartegena, Colombia. She was reportedly thrown from the plane as it was making an emergency landing, and was found in a swamp by a farmer.
Five crew members and 46 passengers were killed in the crash.
8. In September of 1997 a Vietnam Airlines Tu-134B crashed a half mile short of the runway in Ho Chi Minh City as it was landing in heavy rain.
A toddler was the only survivor. The crew of six, along with 59 of the passengers were killed.
9. A chartered plane from Tajikistan to Sharja crashed in the United Arab Emirates on Dec. 15, 1997, killing eight of the nine crew members and all 77 passengers.
The Tajikistan Airlines Tupolev 154B went off the radar right before it crashed. An explosion reportedly followed.
A man and a woman survived the impact, but the woman died at a local hospital. Sergei Petrov, 37, the co-pilot, was the only survivor.
10. One person survived a March 2003 Air Algerie plane crash in Tamanrasset, Algeria, that killed 97 passengers and six crew members.
One of the Boeing 737-200 plane's engines reported caught fire during takeoff.
Most reports identify the survivor as an Algerian soldier on his way back to his barracks, but a handful say the survivor was a crew member.
11. Mohammed el-Fateh Osman, 3, was the lone survivor in July 2003 when a Sudan Airways plane crashed into a hillside near the Port of Sudan while trying to make an emergency landing.
The boy lost his right leg and suffered burns in the 737-200C crash, which occurred shortly after takeoff and killed 105 passengers and all 11 crew members.
12. In August 2006, Comair Flight 191, operating as Delta Connection Flight 5191, crashed just past the end of the runway at Blue Grass Airport in Kentucky, killing everyone but First Officer James M. Polehimke.
The commuter jet was cleared to take off from one runway, but departed from a shorter one, causing the plane to overrun it before it could become airborne.
All 47 passengers and 2 crew members were killed.
Polehimke suffered multiple broken bones, severe bleeding and a collapsed lung. His left leg was amputated.
13. Thirteen is a lucky number for Baya Bakari, the 14-year-old girl who survived when a Yemenia Airlines plane crashed into the Indian Ocean in June 2009.
4. 'When I look in mirror, I have visual scars': Sole survivor of 1987 Michigan plane crash speaks for first time about disaster in which 156 people - including her family - died
Cecelia Cichan, 29, became known as the 'miracle child' after she was dug out of the burning wreckage by a rescuer who heard her whimper.
Northwest Airlines flight 255 crashed shortly after take-off at an airport in Romulus, Michigan en route to Phoenix, Arizona on August 16, 1987. Some 156 people died, including two on the ground, in what remains one of the deadliest air disasters in U.S. history.
The young woman has decided to tell her story as part of a new documentary called Sole Survivor featuring passengers who lived through plane crashes against all odds.
She told film-makers: 'It’s kind of hard not to think about it. When I look in the mirror, I have visual scars.'
It was believed that Cecelia survived the crash because her mother shielded her with her own body.
Her mother, Paula, father Michael and brother, David, six were among those killed as the family returned from their vacation
The four-year-old suffered serious injuries including a fractured skull, broken leg and collarbone and third-degree burns. She underwent four skin grafts for the burns on her arms and legs.
There was intense global interest in the little girl, which saw her feature on magazine covers and receive piles of gifts from strangers.
More than 2,000 presents and 30,000 cards were sent to the University of Michigan Medical Center but her guardians asked that they be distributed to local children's hospitals. The family also set up a trust fund after she received more than $150,000 in donations.
Her uncle Franklin Lumpkin and her aunt Rita, her mother's sister, kept her sheltered from the attention once she left hospital after seven weeks of treatment, allowing her to grow up in obscurity in Birmingham, Alabama.
Cecelia, who is now 29 and married, has never spoken publicly but has a small tattoo of an airplane on her left wrist to remind her of a tragedy that she thinks about 'every day'.
Cecelia said that she had finally decided to open up about the crash because the film was a group project 'and that’s why I’m willing to get involved and be part of something bigger'.
The man who pulled her from wreckage more than 20 years ago, firefighter John Thiede, told the Today show: 'I heard that faint cry a baby doll makes.
'I looked to my right and I could see an arm, kind of bent, coming out of a chair.'
It was initially believed that the four-year-old was one of those injured on the ground until her grandfather came forward to identify the little girl by her chipped front tooth.
Dr Jai Prasad, the doctor who led the team which cared for the four-year-old, said at the time: 'She understands she has lost her father and her mother, and her brother.
'She understands that she was involved in an accident.
'But she doesn't have any memory of how it happened.'
Cecelia has kept in touch with the families of those who died in the 1987 crash - including her rescuer Lieutenant Thiede.
He met her for the first time on her wedding day when he watched her walk down the aisle to become Cecelia Crocker.
The firefighter spoke out as part of the documentary, made by Yellow Wing Productions.
Lieutenant Thiede said: 'To see her come down the aisle, my heart, I lost it really. Just to see her in person was something.'
Sole Survivors tells the story of 13 others who were the only people left alive in deadly plane crashes - none of whom have ever spoken publicly.
The 25th anniversary of the Michigan crash will be commemorated by victims' families on Thursday at the memorial site close to where the plane went down.
The black granite memorial was erected in 1994 and stands on a hill above the interstate where the passengers perished.
The names of all those who died are inscribed under a dove with a ribbon in its beak, reading: 'Their spirit still lives on.'
5. Child is lone survivor in Libya plane crash
Afriqiyah Airways confirmed on its website late Wednesday that the other 92 passengers and 11 crew members were killed when the plane crashed while trying to land at the Tripoli International Airport.
The child, identified as Ruben van Assouw, suffered multiple fractures in his lower limbs and underwent an operation at Al Khadra Hospital in Tripoli, a doctor at the hospital said.
The boy has seen a Dutch Embassy representative and is sedated and asleep, she said.
The Dutch Foreign Ministry, which had a representative at the hospital waiting to identify the boy, declined to confirm the child's name.
The Afriqiyah Airways plane originated in Johannesburg, South Africa. Of those killed, 58 passengers were Dutch, six South African, two Libyan, two Austrian, one German, one French, one Zimbabwean and two British. Another 19 passengers' nationalities could not immediately be identified. The 11 crew members were all Libyan.
The plane, an Airbus A330-200, was at the end of its nearly nine-hour flight when it crashed at 6 a.m.
"We express our sincere regret and sadness on behalf of the airline. As well, we would like to express our condolences to the relatives and friends of those who had passengers on Flight 8U771 destined for Tripoli late last night, due to arrive around 6 o'clock this morning," said Nicky Knapp, a representative of the Airports Company South Africa. She was speaking on behalf of Afriqiyah Airways.
Jerzy Buzek, president of the European Parliament, said the child's survival, "given this tragic event, is truly a miracle."
At the crash site, workers with surgical masks combed through the smoldering wreckage, which spilled over a large area. A wheel lay atop a pile of bags. Two green airline seats sat upright and intact amid burned parts of the aircraft.
Officials recovered the plane's flight data recorder, which investigators use to piece together a flight's last minutes.
The Tripoli-based Afriqiyah (Arabic for "African") operates flights to four continents. The planes in the fleet carry the logo 9.9.99: the date when the African Union was formed.
The plane that crashed was one of three Airbus 330-200s that the airline owns.
6. Girl, 10, survives Colombian air crash
Authorities said the DC-9 Intercontinental airliner exploded in mid-air, but witnesses in the town of Maria La Baja, 500 miles north-west of Bogota, said it plummeted without lights, slammed into an embankment and then toppled into a lagoon.
Erika Delgado, who was travelling with her parents and a younger brother from Bogota to the Caribbean resort city of Cartagena, was taken to hospital in shock and with a broken arm. She was reported to be "in good condition, conscious" and waiting for family members.
One farmer said he heard cries for help and found the girl on a mound of seaweed, which had broken her fall. Farmers said she told them her mother had shoved her out of the plane as it broke up and burst into flames.
As day broke, rescue workers converged on the swamp and pulled out 32 bodies, including those of the pilot and co-pilot. The murky waters may have pulled some bodies downstream and towards the Caribbean.
Rescuers were searching the swamp in small canoes using lanterns and portable generators in the hope of finding passengers. Navy boats were watching the stream's mouth.
The blast was reported by the pilot of an aircraft flying near by. The airliner was approaching Cartagena airport when the pilot asked for authorisation to descend from 18,000ft to 14,000ft - the last communication received from the control tower.
Farmer Argemiro Vergara saw the plane engulfed in flames some 900ft in the air before it plunged towards a lagoon and broke in two.
The aviation authority was reluctant to comment on the possibility of a terrorist attack. "Any judgement which we make immediately would be premature, irresponsible and not serious," said Alvaro Raad Gomez, authority director.
Aviation authorities sent a delegation to investigate the causes of the crash and to seek the plane's "black box" cockpit voice and flight recorders.
International airline passenger and pilots groups have repeatedly criticised Colombia's safety record, saying it is one of the world's most dangerous countries to fly in because of deficient air-traffic control, poor navigational aids and constant security violations.
The crash is the most serious air accident in Colombia since 19 May 1993, when a SAM Airlines Boeing-727 jet crashed into a mountain near the city of Medellin, killing all 132 people aboard.
There have since been several smaller crashes involving regional flights, with 11 people killed in May 1994 and seven in April 1994.
7. Pulled From the Rubble: 4 Amazing Stories of Survival
Biological details aside, stories of youngsters living through mind-boggling tragedies still give pause to even the most stolid observer. Here are four incredible examples.
1. Paul Vick, 16 Months Old
Robert Vick was a Baptist pastor from Connecticut who was working as a missionary in China after World War II ended. Vick, his wife, and two sons (Theodore, age 2, and Paul, 16 months) boarded a China National Aviation Corp. flight in Shanghai bound for Chungking on January 28, 1947. One engine broke out in flames en route, which quickly spread to the cabin. When it became clear the twin-engine craft was doomed, several of the 23 passengers aboard leapt from the plummeting plane in a panic. Mr. and Mrs. Vick were two who jumped, each with a child in their arms. Robert Vick and his bundle, baby Paul, were the only survivors.
Robert was badly injured and died 40 hours later, but not before giving hospital personnel the names and address of Paul’s U.S. grandparents, where the infant (who’d suffered broken bones in his legs) was sent to live after his injuries had been treated.
2. Elisabeth Joassaint, 11 Days Old
Michelene Joassaint had just put her 11-day-old daughter down for her afternoon nap when an earthquake struck Haiti on January 12, 2010.
She attempted to run to the bedroom to retrieve Elisabeth, but the second story of the house began to collapse on her head and her path was blocked. She managed to get outside and spent the next seven days grieving with her husband in a makeshift camp set up in a nearby football field.
The couple fully expected to be told that their daughter had perished in the quake, so they were completely dumbfounded when news reached them that a French rescue team searching the rubble had heard faint cries and found Elisabeth curled up on her bed in a tiny hollow under the debris. The baby was dehydrated, but otherwise uninjured.
3. Cecelia Cichan, Four Years Old
Northwest Flight 255, bound for Phoenix, Arizona, pushed back from the gate at Detroit Metropolitan Airport at 8:32PM on Sunday, August 16, 1987. It was cleared for takeoff at 8:44 and approximately 20 seconds later (according to witnesses) the wings rotated right and left about 35 degrees in each direction. The left wing hit a light pole and then the roof of an Avis Rent-A-Car building before slamming into the ground. The fiery wreckage spread out over nearby I-94 and killed two commuters on the freeway.
News stories that followed immediately after the crash reported that the sole survivor, four-year-old Cecelia Cichan, had been found embraced in her deceased mother’s arms. The wire services picked up the erroneous information and presented it as the one “feel-good story” amidst such an overwhelming tragedy, the ultimate act of motherly love – shielding your child’s body with your own when disaster is imminent. In reality, Flight 255 went down too quickly for anyone to unbuckle and react, and when rescue personnel arrived on the scene, they found Cecelia alone, buckled into overturned seat number 8F. Cecelia suffered a broken leg and burns over 30% of her body.
Her identity remained a mystery for several days after the crash (her parents and brother had also been aboard the doomed aircraft) until her maternal grandmother read news reports that the little survivor was wearing purple nail polish and had a chipped front tooth. Pauline Ciamaichela tearfully remembered painting little Cecelia’s fingernails lavender before the family left to return to Arizona. After being released from the University of Michigan hospital, she was raised by relatives in Alabama.
4. Claudia Isabel Rios, Araceli Santamaria Romo, et al, Mere Days Old
When the earthquake that struck Mexico City in 1985 (which ultimately killed almost 10,000 people), one of the areas most devastated happened to be a location where several of the city’s major hospitals stood. It was shift change at the 12-story Juarez General Hospital when the 8.1 magnitude quake hit, so the corridors were more crowded than usual. Aftershocks hampered rescue personnel and ultimately 561 bodies were recovered from the debris.
Amazingly, however, nine days after disaster had originally struck, construction workers removing the rubble found what used to be the hospital’s nursery and 16 infants—none who had been older than one week when the building first collapsed—still clinging to life. Two of the babies later succumbed to their injuries, but the rest managed to beat the odds and are now in their mid-20s (and are occasionally annoyed by the annual media attention devoted to the “Miracle Babies.”) None of them remember the earthquake, and sadly, most of them grew up never knowing their mothers.
8. Wong Yu-man: World's first hijacker who crashed a plane and survived
The PBY Catalina flying boat, which was carrying extremely wealthy passengers, was the very first plane hijacked in aviation history. When two fishermen saw the plane crash into the water, they found an unconscious man floating nearby— Wong Yu. He was eventually identified as one of the hijackers and spent three years in jail.