Beirut, Jan 25 (Calcutta Tube) At least 28 bodies have been recovered after an Ethiopian Airlines plane crashed off the coast of Lebanon Monday, with no apparent sign of survivors among the 90 passengers and crew.
The Boeing 737-800, 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 plane went down some 3.5 km west of the coastal village of Na’ameh.
Army and naval rescue units were searching for survivors alongside a UN 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 DPA there were ‘no reports of survivors found’. Earlier local media and Arab channels had said seven survivors had been found.
Rescuers said they found 28 bodies, at least 15 of the 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.
According to Ethiopian Airlines, Flight ET-409 was carrying 82 passengers and eight Ethiopian crew. Passengers included 23 Ethiopians, 51 Lebanese nationals, two British, one Turkish, one French, one Russian, one Canadian, one Syrian and an Iraqi national.
Aridi however, said the passengers included 54 Lebanese and 22 Ethiopians.
Lebanese officials and relatives of the passengers have gathered at the airport.
Prime Minister Saad Hariri called for a day of mourning for the victims Monday. ‘We want to find out the reason behind the plane crash and we will be transparent in our information,’ he said.
‘All efforts are focusing on finding survivors. Divers will look for the black box,’ Hariri added.
President Michel Suleiman meanwhile described the incident as ‘painful’ and placed all medical and security forces on maximum alert.
Ethiopian Airlines sent a team of aviation and other experts to Beirut to investigate the crash.
‘Ethiopian flight ET-409 scheduled to operate from Beirut to Addis Ababa Jan 25 lost contact with the Lebanese air controllers shortly after takeoff. The flight departed at 02.35 from Beirut International Airport,’ the airline said in a statement following the crash.
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 plunging into the sea.
Witnesses in the area told of hearing a loud noise and then saw a plane on fire plunging into the water. The Boeing entered into service in 1998.