Plane crash: 20 bodies found; no survivors
Beirut, January 25, 2010
About 20 bodies have so far been recovered from the crash site of an Ethiopian Airlines plane which jumped into the sea with 90 people on board shortly after taking off from Beirut.
The airline's chief executive said there was no word of survivors.
The Boeing 737-800, heading for Addis Ababa, disappeared off the radar some five minutes after taking off at 2:37 am (0037 GMT) during a thunder storm and heavy rain. 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 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 did not confirm there were survivors.
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.
Lebanese army patrol boats and helicopters were searching a small area off Na'ameh, 10 km (six miles) south of Beirut. The military spokesman for UN peacekeepers in Lebanon, Colonel Diego Fulco, said two ships from its maritime task force were at the crash site and a third was on its way. Two UN helicopters were also at the scene, he said.
A Cypriot police helicopter and another from the British military stationed in Cyprus were also involved in the search.
According to one source, residents on the coast saw a 'ball of fire' crashing off Na'ameh.