While many people share a very real fear of flying, few know the horror of experiencing — and surviving — an actual plane crash. Only a handful of people have alone lived through a major air disaster. Theirs are stories of survival and luck, coming to terms with the many left behind and pushing on to live life to the fullest.
“The Miracle Girl”
Bahia Bakari was only 12 when the flight she was on, Yemenia Flight 626, plummeted into the Indian Ocean on June 30, 2009. The devastating plane crash killed her mother, Aziza Aboudou, and 151 others.
A Will to Survive
Dubbed “La Miraculée,” or “the miracle girl,” Bahia managed to cling to wreckage in choppy waters for nine hours before she was saved.
Bahia was rescued by a sailor on a private ship heading to the area of the crash to help out in search and rescue efforts.
Maturaffi Sélémane Libounah (pictured) jumped into the water when he spotted Bahia, and was able to hand her a flotation device so they could both be pulled to safety.
The Road to Recovery
Bahia spent 21 days in the hospital receiving treatment for injuries sustained in the crash, which investigators said was caused “by inappropriate actions of the crew on the flight controls” after the plane stalled.
Former airline co-pilot James Polehinke was at the controls when Comair Flight 5191 crashed during takeoff from Lexington, Ky., in August 2006.
Recovering Comair Flight 5191
The 49 souls on board, including two other crew members, died in the crash. Polehinke lost his left leg in the crash.
Among those killed was Comair pilot Jeff Clay (left), who authorities said was among those responsible for the crash.
Who Was to Blame
The National Transportation Safety Board shows the cockpit voice recorder and flight data recorder after the crash.
The NTSB concluded the flight crew failed "to use available cues and aids to identify the airplane's location on the airport surface during taxi.”
The crew also failed "to cross-check and verify that the airplane was on the correct runway before takeoff,” the NTSB said.
Those Left Behind Fight Back
Amy Clay, Jeff Clay’s wife, spoke out in defense of her late husband, saying it’s easy to “blame the dead guy.”
"Every time I hear that 'the flight crew failed to use available cues and aids to identify the airplane's location,' I want to ask if getting up in the air was supposed to be some kind of a puzzle he was supposed to figure out by way of reading minds,” she told the Lexington Herald-Leader.
Making Peace With Surviving
James Polehinke also spent years fighting allegations by investigators that he and his pilot were to blame and coming to terms with being the only living survivor.
“It is such an emotional cross that he bears that no one really sees but me. I wish we could convey that,” his wife, Ida, said in the documentary “Sole Survivor.” “And he would have given anything to have gone with all of them rather than sitting here today doing this."
Cecelia Cichan was 4 years old when she survived a 1987 plane crash in Detroit. She was found alive under a seat.
The crash killed the other 154 people on board, including Cecelia’s parents and brother, as well as two people on the ground.
A Fatal Error
Flight data specialist Dennis Grossi, right, and NTSB spokesman Michael Benson, left, stand behind the flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorders from Northwest Airlines flight 255.
The flight crew apparently failed to set the plane’s flaps and slats correctly for takeoff, and a warning system failed to alert them of the problem, according to the NTSB.
The Little Boy
Dutch boy Ruben van Assouw was still strapped in his seat when rescuers found the 9-year-old among the debris of a plane crash in Libya in 2010. The flight he and his family was on crashed short of the runway while landing in Tripoli.
An Unbelievable Scene to Walk Away From
Afriqiyah Airways Airbus 330-200 shattered into pieces after it crashed, killing Ruben’s mother and father, Trudy and Patrick van Assouw, his brother, Enzo, and 100 others.
After three days in the hospital, Ruben van Assouw was prepared to go home with his aunt and uncle, who rushed in from Amsterdam to be by his side.
Ruben van Assouw (left) was pictured one year after the crash walking with his cousins in the meadows near Ophemert, the Netherlands.
“The whole family is going to bear the responsibility for Ruben’s future,” his family said in a statement after they initially told him of his parents’ and brother’s death.
Larisa Savitskaya (right) was returning from her honeymoon with her husband Vladimir when the Aeroloft AN-24 plane they were flying in collided with a military jet on Aug. 24, 1981. The crash killed 26 people on the two aircraft, including her husband.
Mourning the Life She Lost
”At the moment of the crash we immediately lost the roof and the wings,” she later said. “There were screams. I turned to my husband and saw that he was dead. At that moment, I was sure I was about to die as well."
A Tragedy and a Cover-up
Savitskaya was found three days after the crash. She was paid 75 Soviet rubles, or $20, by Aeroloft, for the ordeal, and was warned by the KGB not to speak publicly about what happened. She broke her silence for the first time in 2001.