Tue, January 26, 2010
World > Africa > Ethiopian plane crashes in Lebanon

Ethiopian plane crashes off Lebanon

2010-01-26 08:21:52 GMT2010-01-26 16:21:52 (Beijing Time)  Xinhua English

People watch the rescue operation of the Boeing 737-800 passenger plane of Ethiopian Airlines that crashed off the Lebanese coast, south of the capital Beirut, on Jan. 25, 2010. (Xinhua)

A rescuer carries the debris of the Boeing 737-800 passenger plane of Ethiopian Airlines that crashed off the Lebanese coast, south of the capital Beirut, on Jan. 25, 2010. (Xinhua)

A rescuer carries the debris of the Boeing 737-800 passenger plane of Ethiopian Airlines that crashed off the Lebanese coast, south of the capital Beirut, on Jan. 25, 2010. (Xinhua)

Rescuers carry the debris of the Boeing 737-800 passenger plane of Ethiopian Airlines that crashed off the Lebanese coast, south of the capital Beirut, on Jan. 25, 2010. (Xinhua)

BEIRUT, Jan. 25 (Xinhua) -- An Ethiopian Airlines plane carrying 90 people fell into the Mediterranean Sea shortly after taking off from Beirut early Monday and at least 33 bodies have been recovered so far according to local media counts.

Ethiopian Airlines said in a statement its Boeing 737-800 passenger plane crashed into the sea minutes after it left the Rafik Hariri International Airport in Beirut at 2:35 a.m. local time (0035 GMT).

The ET409 flight, carrying 82 passengers and eight crew members, was bound for the Addis Ababa Bole International Airport, it said in a statement, adding that the plane lost contact with Lebanese air controllers shortly after takeoff from Beirut.

According to local Naharnet website, so far at least 33 bodies have been recovered from the jet crash, while rescue teams have collected some wreckage pieces of the plane and moved them to Lebanese Army barracks in order to be sent later to laboratories in foreign countries.

Lebanese Transport Minister Ghazi Aridi earlier said at the airport that the airliner carried 83 passengers and seven crew members and that "the crash site has been identified 3.5 km west of the coastal village of Naameh" near Beirut.

Aridi told local television that bad weather conditions are probably the main reason for the crash as the Ethiopian airliner was flying in a thunder storm and heavy rain.

A Lebanese committee was set up to investigate the crash, he said, adding that the committee will cooperate with a French team to uncover the details of the disaster.

He said the Lebanese Armed Forces and the UN maritime task force serving off the Lebanese coast were taking part in the search-and-rescue operation.

Local LBCI TV channel reported that a U.S. fleet located outside Lebanese territorial waters is also taking part in the search and rescue operation.

Aridi said that among the passengers, 57 were Lebanese nationals, three with dual nationalities: British, Canadian and Russian, and others include one Iraqi, one Syrian, and two French nationals were also on board, and the rest were Ethiopians.

However, the Ethiopian Airlines statement said the passengers include 51 Lebanese nationals and 24 Ethiopians, and others from Turkey and other countries.

The French embassy in Beirut announced in a statement that the wife of France's ambassador to Lebanon Denis Pietton was among the passengers.

Naharnet said the French ambassador wife's body has been recovered and taken to military hospital.

Lebanese President Michel Suleiman said that authorities have ruled out sabotage as the cause for the crash.

"Sabotage is ruled out as of now," Suleiman said during a press conference held with Defense Minister Elias Murr and Army Commander General Jean Qajwaji.

"The incident is painful, the Lebanese on all levels, including security forces, are making every effort to find survivors," added Suleiman. He later visited the Beirut Hospital where the bodies were moved.

Meanwhile, Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri declared Monday a national day of mourning for the victims of the Ethiopian plane crash.

Hariri said at the airport that all efforts currently are focusing on finding survivors and that divers will look for the black box to determine the cause, according to the Naharnet report.

Hariri will chair an emergency cabinet session at 7:00 p.m. (17: 00 GMT).

Defense Minister Elias Murr confirmed at the press conference that there is no evidence of a sabotage act and the bad weather is the reason of the incident in principle.

"Bad weather was apparently the cause of the crash... We have ruled out foul play so far," Murr said.

He said the relatively shallow depth of the waters where the plane had crashed allows finding the black box within the next few hours.

A source in the rescue team told local OTV TV channel that the plane likely sank at a depth of more than 500 meters.

Jordanian King Abdullah II, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown have sent condolences to President Suleiman over the crash, Naharnet and Now Lebanon reported.

As Ethiopia's flag carrier, Ethiopian Airlines now serves 56 international destinations. It operates 37 aircraft including five Boeing 737s.

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