An Ethiopian Airlines plane plunged into the Mediterranean Sea soon after it took off from Lebanon’s capital, Beirut, Monday. All 83 passengers and several crew members died.
The Boeing 737-800 bound for Addis Ababa metropolis in Ethiopia took off under a strong thunderstorm and crashed about 2.1 miles from the Lebanese coast.
According to Lebanese army officials, the plane caught fire and broke into several pieces. Witnesses on the Lebanon seashore said that they heard an explosion and saw a ball of fire plummet into the sea at 2:30 a.m. local time.
“The weather undoubtedly was very bad,” Lebanese Transport Minister Ghazi Aridi said to reporters at Beirut's airport. “The control tower was assisting the pilot of the plane on takeoff and suddenly lost contact for no known reason.”
Among the passengers were 51 Lebanese, 23 Ethiopians, and two Britons. One passenger from each country of France, Canada, Iraq, Russia, Turkey, and Syria was also on board.
Lebanon military and U.N. naval peacekeepers joined the rescue efforts. Investigators had to use DNA tests to identify some of the victims.
Investigations are underway to determine the cause of the crash. It is possible the plane was struck by lightning, although aviation experts said lightning regularly strikes aircraft during thunderstorms without causing damage, but it could happen in some rare circumstances.
Lebanon’s President Michel Suleiman has ruled out sabotage in the crash, saying terrorism is not suspected. A national day of mourning day was declared in the country.