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Yemeni civil aviation deputy chief Mohammed Abdul Qader said there were 142 passengers and a crew of 11 Yemenis on board when the plane, which had set off from the Yemeni capital of San'a, went down before landing in Moroni, on the main island of Grand Comore.

The majority of the passengers were from the Comoros islands, returning home from Paris, he said.

Those on board included families with children and there were at least three babies on board, he added.

Abdul Qader said bodies have been spotted floating off the archipelago and that a rescue and search effort was under way.

He said Yemeni, French and Comoron officials were coordinating to investigate the plane crash.

"They spotted an oil spill 16 or 17 miles in the Ocean off the (Moroni) airport," Abdul Qader said, adding that three Comoron boats are searching for the debris and bodies.

"The wind speed 61 kilometers per hour as the plane was landing." But Rachida Abdullah, a police officer who works with the airport immigration department in the Comoros, told The Associated Press that so far only debris from the plane was recovered north of thee archipelago.

She said the search was ongoing since 4 a.m.


The Comoros is an archipelago of three main islands situated about 1,800 miles (2,900 kilometer) south of Yemen, between Africa's southeastern coast and Madagascar.

In France, Christophe Prazuck, French military spokesman, says that patrol boat, the Rieuse and fregate Nivose, a reconnaissance ship, were being sent to crash site as well as Transall, a military transport plane.

The French were sending divers as well as medical personnel on the plane, he said.

On the Indian Ocean island of Ile de la Reunion, an official statement from the French prefecture said the crash occurred at 0250 GMT Tuesday.

France's Info radio carried remarks by Hadji Mohamed Ali, the director of the airport of Moroni, who said that the debris of the A310 had been spotted.

"It seems that bodies have been recovered," he said, adding that five minutes before the Yemenia Air plane landed it had lost contact with the tower.

In Paris, a crisis cell was set up at Charles de Gaulle airport.

According to Paris Airports press service, 67 of the passengers on board the Airbus 310 had flown from France on Monday on an Airbus 330.

Most of them were from the French city of Marseille, which has a large Comoros community and where the plane briefly landed to pick up more crew and passengers.

Another crisis cell has been established in Marseille, according to Stephane Salord, the consul general of the Comoros in the Provence-Alps-Cote d'Azur region of France.

"There is considerable dismay," Salord said.

"These are families that, each year on the eve of summer, leave Marseille and the region to rejoin their families in the Comoros and spend their holidays." In France, this week is the start of annual summer school vacations.

--- Associated Press Writer Deborah Seward in Paris contributed to this report.
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