Search for bodies, black boxes in Lebanon plane crash

Rescuers on Tuesday continued the grim search for victims of the Ethiopian airliner crash off the coast of Lebanon and sought to recover the black boxes they hope will provide clues to the tragedy.

“The teams worked all night to find additional victims and to locate the debris,” an army spokesperson said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“They are hoping to find the black boxes which contain the flight data recorder that should provide information as to the cause of the accident.”

Ethiopia Airlines Flight 409 tumbled in a ball of fire into the Mediterranean early on Monday just minutes after take-off in stormy weather.

The Boeing 737-800 bound for Addis Ababa had 90 passengers on board. All are presumed dead.

Lebanese officials have ruled out foul play and said the bad weather was likely to blame.

The army spokesperson said 14 bodies had been recovered so far by an international task force including ships from the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), a US navy destroyer as well as aircraft from France, Britain and Cyprus.

Earlier reports had said that more than 24 bodies had been recovered.

A senior security official said early on Tuesday that they expected the USS Ramage, which has specialised sonar equipment, to locate the black boxes.

“We also have divers and we are using specialised equipment that can go down as deep as 200 to 300 meters,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The official said there was little hope of finding any survivors given the time that had elapsed.

Defence Minister Elias Murr on Monday said that the pilot of the plane had failed to follow instructions on take-off from the control tower for unknown reasons.

“A command tower recording shows the tower told the pilot to turn to avoid the storm, but the plane went in the opposite direction,” Murr said in a television interview.

“We do not know what happened or whether it was beyond the pilot’s control,” he added.

Witnesses reported seeing a ball of fire as the plane plunged into the Mediterranean at 2.37am (12.37am GMT) just south of the airport.

Experts have said that extreme turbulence or wind shear may have caused the pilot to lose control of the plane, which apparently exploded into four pieces before crashing.

The 83 passengers comprised 54 Lebanese nationals, 23 Ethiopians, one French, one British, one Iraqi, one Syrian, one Turkish and another of as yet undetermined nationality. There were seven crew members.

The French passenger was identified as Marla Sanchez Pietton, wife of Paris’s ambassador to Lebanon, Denis Pietton, the French embassy said.

Ethiopian Airlines, which was established in 1946 and operates an all-Boeing fleet, is considered one of Africa’s best carriers.

The airline had not been involved in a major accident since 1996, when a Nairobi-bound jet was hijacked by three Ethiopians seeking political asylum.
The aircraft crashed into the Indian Ocean off the Comoros when it ran out of fuel, killing 125 of the 175 people on board. - Reuters

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