All ninety passengers on board a jet that crashed into the Mediterranean are believed to have died. The Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737-800, which was bound for Addis Ababa, crashed into the sea shortly after taking off from Beirut airport, with witnesses saying they saw a “ball of fire”.
Police have ruled out terrorism and said it was probably weather-related, with heavy rain and lightning reported in the area.
The airline’s chief executive Girma Wake said there was no word of any survivors.
“I have contact with the Lebanese authorities, who have not yet confirmed any survivors.”
Four bodies have already been recovered and wreckage has been uncovered in the sea near the crash site, two miles off the coast.
Lebanon’s transport minister Ghazi Aridi said the passengers were 54 Lebanese, 22 Ethiopians, one Iraqi, one Syrian, one Canadian, one Russian, a French woman and the two Britons.
The wife of the French ambassador to Lebanon was on the plane, according to an embassy official.
The Boeing 737-800 took off from Beirut at around 2.30am local time (12.30am GMT).
Helicopters and naval ships are continuing to search the waters for possible survivors as well as debris from the wreckage.
Ethiopian Airlines said on its website: “A team is already working on gathering all pertinent information.”
“An investigative team has already been dispatched to the scene and we will release further information as further updates are received.”
The state-owned carrier has positioned itself as a major player in international air traffic in Africa and has recently expanded its Asian network.
Last week it announced an order for 10 of Boeing’s Next-Generation 737-800s for a total price of £475 million.
The airline has also established a reputation for high-quality service and safety compared with other African airlines.