Ethiopian Airlines flight ET 409 crashed into the sea off Beirut on Monday 24 Jan, 2010, shortly after taking off in a storm. The aircraft carrying 90 people took off during a thunder storm and heavy rain, exploded in the air before crashing into the Mediterranean Sea, two miles west of the coastal village of Na’ameh. “It disappeared from radar a few minutes after takeoff”, said Ghazi El Aridi, Lebanon’s minister of public works and transportation.
“An investigative team has already been dispatched to the scene,” the airline said, according to the Ethiopian News Agency. The 14 member team consists of airline’s safety and emergency response department, medical unit, as well as the members of flight operations, maintenance and engineering. The state-run Lebanese News Agency reported that the team had found 23 bodies with the search focus 8 kilometers offshore, but no survivors as yet.
The government has set up a crisis cell at the state hospital where passengers were arriving in bodybags. Forensic experts were working to identify the bodies at the hospital. “We hope that we will be able to rescue as many survivors, but the weather conditions are very bad,” Sulayman said. DNA tests were underway to identify bodies some of which were burnt beyond recognition.
According to the French embassy, wife of the Denis Pietton, the French ambassador to Lebanon was on plane as well. Psychiatric teams were dispatched to help families cope with the news at the hospital and airport. "The officials here aren't telling us anything. At least if we go home, the television will tell us something," women said as they left the lounge. People were pacing nervously along the beach near the crash site looking out into the waters.
Prime Minister Saad Hariri announced a day of mourning and closed schools and government offices.
The Boeing 737 left Rafik Hariri International airport for Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital at 2:35 am, local time, and lost contact with the air traffic control soon afterwards. According to the data compiled by the London- based aviation consultant Ascend this was the first fatal accident involving Beirut Airport since 1988, excluding the hijacking of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 961 in 1996. The aircraft had 7 crew members and 82 passengers out of which 51 were Lebanese nationals, 23 were Ethiopians, and 2 were Britons. Other passengers said to have been listed from countries such as Iraq, Turkey, Syria, Canada, Russia and France.
Ethiopian airline chairman Wake said that the plane underwent maintenance checks with no technical problems found on 25 December 2009. According to the published reports the airline flies to more destinations in Africa than any other airline. It has never been involved with a serious accident and has a very clean record.
“We don’t believe that there is any indication for sabotage or foul play,” Lebanese President Michel Sulayman said. Neither the flight data recorder nor the cockpit voice recorder have yet been found.