25 Jan 2010

Ethiopian planes crashes after takeoff from Beirut

10:26 pm on 25 January 2010

An Ethiopian Airlines passenger plane with 89 people on board has crashed into the Mediterranean Sea shortly after take-off from Beirut airport.

Eyewitnesses say they saw a ball of fire in the sky before the jet crashed into the sea. Wreckage from the plane has been seen off the Lebanese coast, the BBC reports.

At least nine bodies have been found, and the airline's chief executive said there was no word of survivors.

Most of those on board were Lebanese or Ethiopian. Other passengers included citizens of Britain, Turkey, France, Russia, Canada, Syria and Iraq, according to Ethiopian Airlines.

Among those killed was the wife of the French ambassador in Beirut, Marla Pietton.

The plane, a Boeing 737-800, was carrying 80 passengers and nine crew. It disappeared from radar screens about five minutes after takeoff in stormy weather about 2am local time.

Officials say a rescue operation including helicopters and naval ships is under way, but it is unclear if there are any survivors.

The United Nations peacekeeping operation in Lebanon has sent three ships and two helicopters. An investigative team has been sent to the scene, Ethiopian Airlines said.

The cause of the crash was not immediately clear, but the plane took off in a heavy rainstorm. Lebanese President Michel Suleiman said foul play was not suspected.