Search on to retrieve black box

January 28, 2010 12:00 am

, BEIRUT, Jan 28 – Search teams on Thursday sought to recover the black boxes from an Ethiopian aircraft that crashed off Lebanon\\\’s coast, with hope the data would provide answers to the mystery surrounding the tragedy.

"We expect to have them some time today," Lebanese Transport Minister Ghazi Aridi told AFP.

An international search team picked up signals from the flight data recorders late Wednesday approximately 10 kilometres (six miles) west of Beirut airport at a depth of 1,300 metres (4,265 feet) below sea level.

"As of this morning we are evaluating the necessary means to retrieve the boxes," a military spokesman told AFP, requesting anonymity.

"We hope to find the plane in the coming hours," the military spokesman said.

Aridi confirmed that the body of the Boeing 737-800 had yet to be located four days after the tragedy, in which all 90 passengers and crew are presumed dead.

Ethiopian Airlines Flight 409, bound for Addis Ababa, crashed into the Mediterranean minutes after takeoff from Beirut at 2:37 am (0037 GMT) during a raging thunderstorm on Monday.

Only 14 bodies, including those of two toddlers, and some body parts have been recovered so far.

Lebanese dailies carried obituaries for some of the passengers on Thursday, including some who have not yet been found.

Rescue officials have said a number of the bodies may still be strapped to their seats underwater and hope to recover them once they find the wreckage.

There were conflicting reports as to whether the jet exploded while still airbound or after it had hit the water, and officials have said there will be no answers until the data from the black boxes is retrieved and analysed.

Lebanese authorities have said they are counting on the flight data recorders to explain why the pilot veered off course on takeoff but have ruled out sabotage.

They have also cautioned against blaming the pilot without sufficient evidence.

Lebanese officials have said the pilot acknowledged instructions from the Beirut airport control tower to avoid the storm.

"To say there was pilot error is pure speculation," Aridi told AFP earlier, echoing similar comments by the defence ministry.

Ethiopian Airlines spokesperson Wogayehu Tefere said the pilot was experienced and had been with the company for 20 years.

"He had been a co-pilot on this aircraft before and he flew this route on a regular basis as well as other routes," he said.

The US National Transportation Safety Board and the French body for civil aviation security, the Bureau D\\\’Enquetes et D\\\’Analyses (BEA), have sent experts to join a team investigating the tragedy.

An international search operation was launched by the Lebanese navy, the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), a civilian boat from Cyprus and US navy destroyer USS Ramage with sonar equipment.

Ethiopian Airlines has had two other deadly accidents over the past 25 years, one of which was a hijacking which ended in a crash when the plane ran out of fuel.

Flight 409 had 30 Ethiopian nationals on board, including the seven crew members. Most of the Ethiopian passengers were employed in Lebanon as domestic workers and were flying home to see their families.

There were also 54 Lebanese on board, most of them Shiites from southern Lebanon. Many were transiting in Addis Ababa to other countries in Africa, where they work.

Also among the passengers was Marla Sanchez Pietton, wife of France\\\’s ambassador to Lebanon.


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