Beirut, Jan 25 (Calcutta Tube) Four bodies have been recovered from the crash site of the Ethiopian Airlines plane that went down off the coast of Lebanon early Monday with 90 people on board, army sources said.
The aircraft, carrying 82 passengers and eight crew, crashed into the sea four minutes after taking off from Beirut’s international airport, Transport Minister Ghazi Aridi said.
Lebanese army and rescue units were carrying out the search for survivors alongside a force from UN Maritime Task Force, which include two German boats.
The aircraft carried 54 Lebanese nationals, 22 Ethiopians, as well as Iraqi, Syrian, British,and French nationals, the minister said. One of the passengers is believed to be the wife of the French ambassador in Beirut.
Lebanon’s President Michel Suleiman described the incident as ‘painful’. Suleiman put all medical and security forces on maximum alert.
However difficult weather conditions were believed to be hampering the search.
Local media quoted Lebanese army officials as saying that seven survivors had been rescued.
However, according to other reports, police officers said there had been two survivors. The conflicting reports of survivors were not confirmed by the UN or government officials.
Confirmation of the loss of the flight came from the operator in Addis Ababa.
‘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.’
A source at the French embassy in Beirut who requested anonymity said the ambassador’s wife was on board 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 earlier.
One airport official said the plane was struck by lightning before it fell into the sea.
The Boeing aircraft disappeared off the radar screens shortly after takeoff, the state-run Lebanese National News Agency reported.
Witnesses in the area said they heard a loud noise and then saw a plane on fire plunging into the water.
Rescue teams were seen gathering near the area where the plane reportedly crashed.
‘The weather is not helping us at all,’ a member of the rescue team said. ‘But we hope to find some survivors.’
Aridi said the crash site had been identified at 3.5 km west of the coastal village of Na’ameh.