12-year-old Bahia Bakari was one of 153 people on Yemenia Flight 626, headed for the Comoros Islands, when the plane suddenly took a sharp nosedive and plummeted into the Indian Ocean.
Bahia was the only one who survived.
The girl had been sitting on the plane next to her mother, with her head pressed up against the window, when the plane began to shake.
Then the plane started descending, and passengers were told to put on their seatbelts. She doesn’t remember much else.
“I only remember an electric shock,” she said.
Before she knew it, they had plunged into choppy waters.
“I found myself in the ocean. I don’t know how it happened. I didn’t see my mother,” Bahia said. Surrounded by darkness, she could barely see what had happened.
She then grabbed onto a piece of plane debris and clung on for dear life. People were crying and shouting around her, but she couldn’t see them. Eventually the cries ceased, and there she stayed for hours, without a life vest.
In all, she was out at sea for over 12 hours.
Cold, alone, and being thrashed around in the dark, she thought, “No one would ever find me.”
But her story turned into a miracle.
Finally, she heard someone shouting “Come here!”
She didn’t quite believe her eyes at first, but there was a boat. The people on board beckoned her toward them, but “the sea was very rough; I didn’t know if I could do it,” she said.
Then a man jumped into the water and took her in his arms.
Bahia was in a state of shock; disoriented, she was saying that she must have fallen out of the plane because she pressed against the windows too hard. She was then taken to a hospital where they found her injuries to be shockingly minor: a few bruises and a broken collarbone.
It was there that everything started to sink in. Bahia was in her hospital bed when a psychologist approached her.
“I don’t think your mother is coming,” she remembered the psychologist saying. “Then I understood. I was the only one alive.”
In the aftermath, Bahia became known as the “miracle girl.” Her story spread quickly on the Comoros Islands, and people wanted to catch a glimpse of the girl who could barely swim and the rescue worker who dived in to save her.
“She really showed incredible physical and moral strength,” said French Cooperation Secretary Alain Joyandet. Bahia became a symbol of hope and resilience.
“In the midst of the mourning, there is Bahia. It is a miracle, it is an absolutely extraordinary battle for survival,” Joyandet said. “It’s an enormous message that she sends to the world … almost nothing is impossible.”
Bahia’s father, Kassim Bakari thinks it must be part of a grander plan that she survived one of the deadliest plane crashes: “I can’t say that it’s a miracle. I can say that it is God’s will.”
Top image credit: (STEPHANE DE SAKUTIN/AFP/Getty Images)