The Ethiopian Airlines plane that crashed off the coast of Lebanon was used by Ryanair until last April, its chief executive Michael O’Leary has revealed.
He said the budget airline had sold the Boeing 737 in April 2009 and it had previously been used on a number of its European routes from 2002.
The Irish Aviation Authority confirmed that the aircraft was a former Ryanair plane that had logged 17,750 flight hours in its seven years of service.
But O’Leary denied any liability in the accident.
“What happened we don’t know,” he told the Daily Mail. “It’s a bit like selling your car and 11 months later the person driving it has a crash. It had nothing to do with us.”
Searchers are trying to locate the plane’s black box and flight data recorder to determining the cause of the crash.
Rescue teams and equipment sent from the U.N. and countries including the U.S. and Cyprus are helping in the search.
Pieces of the plane and other debris have been washing ashore, and emergency crews have pulled a large, one-metre-long piece of the plane from the water.
Initial reports suggest that the pilot ignored instructions from the controller to avoid a series of violent thunderstorms.
“A traffic control recording shows that the tower told the pilot to turn to avoid the storm, but the plane went in the opposite direction,” Elias Murr, the Lebanese
Defence Minister, told a press conference. “We do not know what happened or whether it was beyond the pilot’s control.”
All 90 passengers and crew on board the Boeing 737 died when the aircraft crashed into the Mediterranean shortly after taking off from Beirut airport.
When flight ET409 took off, controllers gave it compass headings to avoid the powerful storms that crossed its flight path.
But the plane disappeared from radar five minutes after take-off when it apparently flew straight into the line of storms.
Ghazi Aridi, the Lebanese Transport Minister, said that the pilot flew in the opposite direction to that advised by the controllers. They “asked him to correct his path but he did a very fast and strange turn before disappearing completely from the radar,” he said.
Ethiopian Airlines said that the pilot had more than 20 years of experience. It did not give the pilot’s name. It also said the plane was leased from a division of U.S. financing company CIT Group and had its last routine maintenance on 25 December 2009.