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Ethiopian Airliner Crashes After Takeoff From Beirut


Helicopters and vessels from the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) and the Lebanese Army search for survivors near the area where an Ethiopian plane crashed.

Helicopters and vessels from the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) and the Lebanese Army search for survivors near the area where an Ethiopian plane crashed.

An Ethiopian Airlines plane with about 90 people on board has crashed into the Mediterranean Sea shortly after taking off from Beirut airport.

Flight 409 disappeared from radar screens shortly after takeoff, headed for Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital.

"We lost contact at 02:37 shortly after takeoff, after we had had direct contact with the plane and given the pilot details of the flight course," Transport Minister Ghazi Aridi told reporters.

It's not yet clear what caused the plane, with about 90 people on board, to crash in flames into the Mediterranean Sea. But the Boeing 737 took off amid heavy rains and storms. Lebanese President Michel Suleiman said sabotage was "unlikely."

Abdel Mahdi Salaneh was among eyewitnesses who reported seeing a ball of fire in the sky near the coastal town of Nehmeh.

"We saw a flash in the sky, and it was the plane falling," Salaneh said.

Day Of Mourning

Helicopters and naval ships were scrambled for the rescue effort in poor weather conditions. Reports say at least 10 bodies have been recovered at the crash site so far. The airline's chief executive said he had no word of any survivors.

Lebanon's government has declared a day of mourning.

Officials listed 83 passengers and seven crew members as having been on board the flight, mainly Lebanese or Ethiopians. Other passengers included citizens of Turkey, France, Russia, Canada, Syria and Iraq. Among them was the wife of the French ambassador in Beirut, Marla Pietton.

Transport Minister Aridi said he had formed an investigative committee to determine the cause of the crash and had contacted nearby countries to assist in the search and rescue effort.

He said the Lebanese Army, Navy, as well as the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), were assisting in the rescue.

Ethiopian Airlines operates a regular flight between Addis Ababa and Beirut. Thousands of Ethiopians are employed as domestic workers in Lebanon.

compiled from agency reports
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