Ethiopian plane crashes off Beirut, 90 feared dead

All 90 people aboard an Ethiopian Airlines plane were feared dead after it plunged into the Mediterranean, minutes after taking off from Beirut in a thunderstorm on Monday.

Flight ET409, a Boeing 737-800, heading for Addis Ababa, disappeared off the radar about five minutes after taking off at 2.37am local time.

The Lebanese army said the plane had broken up in the air before plummeting into rough seas. Witnesses described the impact as a “flash that lit up the whole sea” and a “ball of fire”.

Lebanese President Michel Suleiman said he did not think the plane had been brought down deliberately, emphasising “a sabotage attack is unlikely”.

Defence Minister Elias el-Murr also said there was no evidence of a terrorist attack and that weather was “in principle” to blame for the crash.

Ethiopian Airlines CEO Girma Wake said he had spoken with Lebanese authorities who had no word of survivors.

Eighty-three passengers and seven crew were on the flight, Lebanese Transport Minister Ghazi al-Aridi said at the airport.

Twenty-four bodies, including those of two toddlers, have so far been recovered. At least six bodies were of Ethiopian origin, officials said. Some of the bodies were so unrecognisable from the impact of the crash that DNA testing would be needed to identify them.

The remains of mangled aircraft 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 searched an area off Na’ameh, 10km south of the capital.

Fifty-four of those on board were Lebanese, 22 were Ethiopian, two were British and there were also Canadian, Russian, French, Iraqi, Syrian, and Turkish nationals.

Marla Pietton, wife of the French ambassador to Lebanon Denis Pietton, was on the plane, the French embassy said. — Reuters

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