Ethiopian plane crashes off Beirut, 21 bodies found

Flight took off in stormy weather in Lebanon

An Ethiopian Airlines with 90 people on board crashed into the sea minutes after taking off from Beirut in stormy weather early on Monday and the airline's chief executive said there was no word of survivors.
Flight ET409, a Boeing (BA.N) 737-800, heading for Addis Ababa, disappeared off the radar some five minutes after taking off at 2:37 a.m. (0037 GMT) during a thunderstorm and rough seas. Lebanese President Michel Suleiman said he did not think the plane had been brought down deliberately.
"As of now, a sabotage act is unlikely. The investigation will uncover the cause," Suleiman told a news conference.
Twenty-one bodies have so far been recovered near the crash site three-and-a-half km (two miles) west of the coastal village of Na'ameh. Eighty-three passengers and seven crew were on the flight, Transport Minister Ghazi al-Aridi said at the airport.
Ethiopian Airlines CEO Girma Wake said he had spoken with Lebanese authorities who had no word of survivors.
Television footage showed the remains of mangled airplane seats and luggage washed up on the shore south of Beirut where the airport's main runway is located. Lebanese army patrol boats, helicopters and divers were searching frantically in a small area off Na'ameh, 10 km (six miles) south of the capital.
According to one source, residents on the coast saw a "ball of fire" crashing off Na'ameh.
Fifty-four of those on board were Lebanese, 22 were Ethiopian, two were British and there were also Canadian, Russian, French, Iraqi and Syrian nationals.
Marla Pietton, wife of the French ambassador to Lebanon Denis Pietton, was on the plane, the French embassy said.


The Lebanese government declared a day of mourning. Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri visited the airport to meet distraught relatives waiting for news of survivors, some of whom were angry that the plane was allowed to take off in bad weather.
"They should have delayed the flight for an hour or two to protect the passengers. There had been strong lightning bolts and we hear that lighting strikes at planes especially during take-offs," a relative of one of the passengers told a local television station.
Wake said he did not think the crew would have taken off in dangerous weather conditions.
"There was bad weather. How bad it is, I will not be able to say. But, from what I see, probably it was manageable weather otherwise the crew would not have taken off," he told reporters in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa.
The U.N. peacekeepers in Lebanon, Cypriot police, the British military stationed in Cyprus and the U.S. navy provided helicopters, ships and divers to aid search and rescue.
State-owned Ethiopian Airlines has positioned itself as a major player in international air traffic in Africa and has recently expanded its Asian network.
Wake said the plane, built in 2002, last underwent a maintenance check on Dec. 25 and no technical problems were found. It had been leased by Ethiopian Airlines in September 2009 from CIT Aerospace.
The last incident involving Ethiopian Airlines was in Nov. 1996 when 125 of
the 175 passengers and crew died after a hijacked Boeing 767 crashed off the Comoros Islands. Bookmark and Share