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Kenya Jet Survivor Learns To Swim

January 31, 2000

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast (AP) _ Emmanuel Madu can’t swim. But when the Kenya Airways jetliner he was on plunged into the Atlantic Ocean, the 33-year-old Nigerian found a strength he didn’t know he had.

He thought about what he’d learned as an engineer and from friends, and from watching action-movie heroes. And he managed to survive, despite hours in the water surrounded by bodies.

``I kept myself afloat using engineering skills and information and above all determination,″ said Madu, one of only 10 survivors pulled from the sea after the crash of Kenya Airways Flight 431. The plane, an Airbus 310, had 179 people on board.

``I ... have learned a lot from movie culture,″ said Madu, speaking from an Abidjan hospital bed, his voice strong despite the bruises covering his body. ``If you spend a lot of time watching people’s quest to survive, you end up believing you can do it too.″

Madu, who was picked up by Ivorian army rescuers after two hours in the water, said he knew something was wrong the moment the flight took off from Abidjan’s Felix Houphouet-Boigny Airport, en route to Lagos, Nigeria. Minutes later, the jetliner plunged into the sea; the cause of the crash is under investigation.

``I don’t know whether it was an explosion or not, all I know is that the plane broke apart... while we were in the air, not before we hit the water,″ Madu said. ``Then brram! All of us in the sea.″

Madu recalled sinking at first, then managing to claw his way to the surface for deep gasps of air, frantically grabbing whatever he could in the pitch-black sea.

``I was sitting in seat 26B, even though I was meant to sit in 26A. I changed with my friend,″ Madu said, momentarily breaking into tears. It was not known whether his friend was among the nine other survivors.

``I want you to say that God helped me out of this. I prayed. I’m not a Pentecostal or a fundamentalist or anything like that, but I know I survived with supernatural strength.″

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