, ADDIS ABABA, Jan 25 – The relatives of the 23 Ethiopian nationals who were on board the Ethiopian Airlines plane that crashed Monday shortly after leaving Beirut were awaiting news of their loved ones at home.
Airline officials said they were still holding up hope that survivors could be found but the government declared a national day of mourning.
Ethiopian Airlines told AFP it had driven back home dozens of relatives who had been waiting for news of their relatives on flight ET 409 at Addis Ababa\\\\\\\’s international airport.
The families received the support of religious leaders from Ethiopia\\\\\\\’s Islamic Council and from the Orthodox Church, the country\\\\\\\’s two main faiths.
Lebanese officials and witnesses said the Boeing crashed into the Mediterranean Sea in a huge ball of flames, leaving little chance of survival for any of the 90 people on board.
But Tewodros Abdisa refused to lose hope. His 35-year-old cousin Tigist Shakur spent a year as a maid in Lebanon and had just decided to return to Ethiopia, citing abuse by her employers.
"Ethiopian Airlines is telling us that nine people may have survived the crash and that we should wait to find out whether our relatives are among them," he told AFP.
The Ethiopian security forces quickly barred the press from accessing the main arrivals terminal.
Lebanese and Ethiopian officials swiftly launched an investigation into the cause of the crash, having both ruled out any foul play.
Sources at Addis Ababa airport said the plane\\\\\\\’s pilot was a seasoned captain who had two decades of experience flying for Ethiopian Airlines.
Communications Minister Bereket Simon appeared to have little hope that any of the plane\\\\\\\’s crew and passengers could be found alive and said a national day of mourning had been declared to honour the victims.
"A day of mourning has been declared today by the government following the crash of the Ethiopian Airlines flight in Lebanon… The day is today and for one day," he said.
The Ethiopian News Agency reported that Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, who was attending a ceremony for the country\\\\\\\’s pastoralist communities, "expressed sorrow" over the crash.