An Ethiopian airliner that crashed into the sea off Lebanon Failed to follow instructions from a flight control tower for unknown reasons, Lebanon’s defence minister said.
“A command tower recording shows the tower told the pilot to turn to avoid the storm, but the plane went in the opposite direction,” Defence Minister Elias Murr said in a television interview on Monday.
“We do not know what happened or whether it was beyond the pilot’s control,” he added.
Ethiopian Airlines Flight 409 lost contact with Beirut airport shortly after takeoff at 02:37am and crashed into the Mediterranean 2.5 nautical miles from the town of Naameh, south of the airport,in stormy weather.
So far rescuers have failed to find any survivors from the 90 people on board, and Murr said the official death toll would be limited to bodies delivered to the state hospital in Beirut.
Red Cross volunteers transported 14 bodies and some body parts to the Rafik Hariri state hospital.
Murr’s statements came after Prime Minister Saad Hariri chaired an emergency meeting with officials including Murr, Health Minister Mohammed Jawad Khalifeh, army commander Jean Kahwaji and police chief Ashraf Rifi.
The Lebanese army, navy, the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) and aircraft from France, Britain, Cyprus and the United States were all assisting in rescue efforts, officials said.
An American destroyer, the USS Ramage which specialises in rescue operations, arrived on site at 4pm local time, a US embassy spokesman said.
But officials said hopes of finding any survivors were quickly fading as the search pushed on.
“We hope (to find survivors) but it’s unlikely,” Health Minister Mohammed Jawad Khalifeh told reporters.
Of the 83 passengers, 54 were Lebanese, 23 Ethiopians, one French, one British, one Iraqi, one Syrian, one Turkish and another of as yet undetermined nationality.
The French passenger was identified as Marla Sanchez Pietton, wife of Paris’s ambassador to Lebanon, said Denis Pietton of the French embassy.
Three of the Lebanese passengers had dual nationality from Britain, Canada and Russia.