TRIPOLI, Libya — The Dutch family — mom, dad and two young sons — were headed home from a dream safari in South Africa when their plane plunged to Earth in Libya. Rescuers found a single passenger alive: 9-year-old Ruben, still strapped in his seat.
The sole survivor slept peacefully Thursday, a stuffed orange Tigger tucked under his arm in a hospital room filled with flowers. His left eye, forehead and slim torso were marked with bruises and scrapes; his left leg was immobilized in a blue and white cast.
Ruben smiled and spoke briefly to an aunt and uncle who rushed to his bedside from Holland but has yet to be told his parents and 11-year-old brother are dead.
"He's awake. He's talking. He is listening," a Dutch Foreign Ministry official, Ed Kronenburg, said after visiting the boy. "Of course he also sleeps quite a lot because he got anesthesia yesterday and is still a bit dizzy."
The child was recovering well after 4½ hours of surgery to repair multiple fractures to his legs, Kronenburg said.
Ruben, his brother, Enzo, and their parents, Trudy and Patrick van Assouw, had gone to South Africa during the boys' spring school vacation to celebrate the couple's 12½-year wedding anniversary, a Dutch tradition.
In his travel blog, Patrick Van Assouw wrote about the camping trip that took them through some of the world's most spectacular natural wonders — South Africa's Mac Mac Falls, the Kruger National Park game reserve and across the border into Swaziland and on to Lesotho.
Pictures he posted included one showing Ruben and Enzo posing in front of the waterfalls.
"We ran into a very large number of impalas, which we nicknamed deers," he wrote. "Enzo's second find was the elephant. Also saw buffalo, gnu, fox, zebra, more deer, ostrich, a lot of birds, turtle, giraffe, apes, boar, more deer."
The following day the family encountered two rhinos, and later in the trip they saw a hippo, he wrote in the entry posted Monday — the day before the family boarded the ill-fated return flight.
Their Libyan-owned jetliner was minutes from landing in Tripoli on Wednesday after a more than seven-hour journey across Africa when it crashed into a sandy field at the edge of the runway, killing 103 people.
Ruben was found still strapped in his seat by rescuers, said a Libyan safety official, Col. Baloul al-Khoja. The bodies of three crash victims were nearby.
The child was semiconscious and unresponsive, bleeding from wounds to his legs, al-Khoja said. As rescuers moved him, he grimaced in pain.
Kronenburg said the child was discovered about half a mile from the tail section of the Airbus A330-200, indicating he may have been sitting in the front of the aircraft when it broke apart.
Aside from the tail, little was left of the plane. A trail of wreckage more than 150 yards long lay scattered Thursday in the sand.
The walls of a house just yards from the site were pockmarked by debris. The 54-year-old owner, Ramadan al-Seid, said he and his family heard the crash and then looked out to see a massive cloud of smoke and dust, with an overwhelming smell of fuel. Then they heard the ambulances.
Dutch officials said Ruben could be flown back to Holland as early as this weekend.
In the boy's hometown of Tilburg, a bouquet of white flowers was propped against the door of the van Assouw's home in a quiet neighborhood of the city south of Amsterdam.