An Ethiopian Airlines aircraft carrying 89 people from Beirut to Addis Ababa crashed on Monday, January 25, into the Mediterranean Sea shortly after take-off. Ethiopian Airlines Flight 409 was just minutes into its journey to Addis Ababa when the Boeing 737-800 plunged into the sea in what witnesses described as a "ball of fire".
A statement on the airline’s website said passengers were predominantly Lebanese or Ethiopian, but two Britons were also onboard along with citizens of Turkey, France, Russia, Canada, Syria and Iraq.
Saad Hariri, Lebanon's prime minister, declared Monday a national day of mourning. After arriving at the airport to offer comfort to the relatives of those on board the flight, he said: "We are working with all the power we have to try and find missing people from this tragedy.
"We are working to find the black box that will tell us what really happened on the plane."
Lebanese army patrol boats were seen scouring the waters around the crash site. Helicopters from nearby Cyprus were also heading towards the scene, while British soldiers stationed on the island were ordered to remain on standby to assist if required. The UN peacekeeping force in Lebanon, UNAFIL, also sent helicopters to the crash site.
On Tuesday Lebanons traansport minister stated that "The pilot flew in the opposite direction from the path recommended by the control tower after taking off from Beirut in a storm. All 90 people on board were killed when the plane went down in flames minutes after takeoff at around 2:30am yesterday, during a night of lightning and thunderstorms." The minister, Ghazi Aridi, said that the pilot initially followed the tower's guidance, but then abruptly changed course and went in the opposite direction. "They asked him to correct his path but he did a very fast and strange turn before disappearing completely from the radar," Aridi said.
It was not immediately clear why the pilot veered off the recommended path. Like most other airliners, the Boeing 737 is equipped with its own weather radar, which the pilot may have used rather than following the flight tower's recommendation.
"Nobody is saying the pilot is to blame for not heeding orders," Aridi said, adding: "There could have been many reasons for what happened … Only the black box can tell."
In Addis Ababa, Girma Wake, the CEO of Ethiopia's national airline, which operates one of Africa's largest commercial passenger fleets, said the aircraft had last been serviced on Christmas Day and had passed its inspection.
In a continent with a reputation for lax aviation standards, Ethiopian Airlines is widely respected for its professionalism and attention to safety.
Operating a fleet dominated by Boeing and with ambitious plans to expand into the Asian market, the company's aircraft are on average newer than most of its US and European competitors.
Further Information: www.guardian.co.uk