Bodies found after Ethiopian jet crash
Lebanese rescue teams have recovered over 10 bodies from the wreckage of an airliner that crashed after takeoff in stormy weather off the coast just south of Beirut
Helicopters and naval ships were scrambled to find the plane, as witnesses reported seeing a ball of fire as the jet plunged into the sea early on Monday local time.
It was unclear whether there were any survivors.
The cause was not immediately known, but police ruled out terrorism and said the crash was likely weather-related.
Bad weather the likely cause of crash
“The weather undoubtedly was very bad,” Transport Minister Ghazi Aridi told reporters at Beirut International Airport on Monday.
Aridi said Ethiopian Airlines Flight 409 lost contact with the airport control tower shortly after takeoff and crashed into the sea about 12 kilometres south of the airport on Monday morning.
“The control tower was assisting the pilot of the plane on takeoff and suddenly lost contact for no known reason,” Aridi told reporters, adding that the Boeing 737 crashed some 3.5 kilometres off the Lebanese coast.
He said the passengers include 54 Lebanese, 22 Ethiopians, one Iraqi, one French woman, one Syrian and seven crew members.
There were also several dual nationals including two British-Lebanese, one Canadian-Lebanese and a Russian-Lebanese.
French ambassador’s wife on board: report
A Lebanese government official told Agence France-Presse the wife of France’s ambassador to Lebanon was on board the plane.
“Among the names on the passenger list was that of Marla Sanchez Pietton, the wife of the French ambassador to Lebanon” Denis Pietton, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
An airport official had initially said that 92 people were on board the doomed flight, which he said crashed about five minutes after taking off at 2.30am (1130 AEDT) for the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa.
Ethiopian Airlines released a statement on its website confirming the plane was missing.
“A team is already working on gathering all pertinent information,” the statement said.
Investigation team en route
“An investigative team has already been dispatched to the scene and we will release further information as further updates are received.”
Aridi said he had formed an investigative committee to determine the cause of the crash and had contacted nearby countries to assist in the search and rescue effort.
UNIFIL and army helping with rescue
The Lebanese army, navy as well as the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) were assisting in the rescue, Aridi added.
“We have contacted everyone, inside and outside the country, that can assist us and the Lebanese navy, the army and UNIFIL have joined in the rescue,” the minister said.
Families of the passengers, some of them weeping, could be seen arriving at Beirut International Airport, where they were escorted to a private area to await news of their loved ones.
The Boeing 737-800, which entered into commercial service in 1998, is one of the latest versions of the world’s most widely used short to medium-haul airliners, and is capable of carrying up to 189 passengers.
The accident took place amid heavy rains and storms in Lebanon in the past two days that have caused heavy flooding and damages in some part of the country.