Plane crash off Lebanon: 15 bodies, no sign of survivors
At least 15 bodies have been recovered from the scene of the crash of an Ethiopian Airlines plane off the coast of Lebanon Monday, with no apparent sign of survivors among the 90 passengers and crew, DPA reported.
The Boeing, carrying 83 passengers and seven crew, crashed into the Mediterranean some four minutes after taking off from the Beirut-Rafic Hariri International Airport in the capital, Transport Minister Ghazi Aridi said.
"The control tower was assisting the pilot of the plane on takeoff and suddenly lost contact for no known reason," Aridi told reporters. Weather conditions were reportedly bad when the plan went down some 3.5 kilometres west of the coastal village of Na`ameh.
Army and naval rescue units were searching for survivors alongside a United Nations Maritime Task Force, which included two German boats. "The weather is not helping us at all," a member of the rescue team said. "But we hope to find some survivors."
An Ethiopian Airlines official at the airport meanwhile told the German Press Agency dpa there were "no reports of survivors found." Earlier local media and Arab channels had said seven survivors had been found.
Rescuers found the 15 victims still strapped to their seats. Army patrol boats were seen scouring the waters around the site where the plane went down.
The wife of the French ambassador to Lebanon was reported to have been on the plane. "On the passengers list we saw the name of Marla Sanchez Pietton, the wife of the French ambassador to Lebanon," a Lebanese security source said.
Prime Minister Saad Hariri called for a day of mourning for the victims Monday. President Michel Suleiman meanwhile described the incident as "painful" and placed all medical and security forces on maximum alert.
Ethiopian Airlines has sent a team to Beirut to investigate the crash.
"Ethiopian flight ET-409 scheduled to operate from Beirut to Addis Ababa on January 25 lost contact with the Lebanese air controllers shortly after takeoff. The flight departed at 02:35 Lebanese time from Beirut International Airport," the airline said in a statement.
"Flight ET-409 carries 82 passenger plus eight Ethiopian crew members. Out of the total passengers 23 are Ethiopian, 51 Lebanese, one Turkish, one French, two British, one Russian, one Canadian, one Syrian and one Iraqi national."
Confirmation of the loss of the flight came from the operator in Addis Ababa. One airport official said the plane was struck by lightning before into fell into the sea.
Witnesses in the area told of hearing a loud noise and then saw a plane on fire plunging into the water.