Emergency workers scour the Mediterranean for black boxes from Beirut airline crash

By Bassem Mroue, AP
Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Boats scour sea for Beirut crash black boxes

BEIRUT — International ships scanned Lebanon’s coast for the black boxes and wreckage of an Ethiopian Airlines jet Wednesday as DNA tests helped identify several victims, including two children whose remains were pulled from the sea.

The plane went down early Monday just minutes after takeoff from Beirut in a fierce storm. All 90 people on board were feared dead, but only some bodies have been found so far.

Weather experts said lightning had struck in the plane’s path around the time of the deadly crash, although it was too early to tell what caused the disaster.

The Lebanese army and witnesses reported the plane was in flames as it crashed.

At Beirut’s government hospital, health officials handed over to families the remains of two victims who were identified using DNA, Health Minister Mohammed Jawad Khalife said.

The family members climbed into ambulances carrying the coffins and sped away.

Three other victims — two of them toddlers — also have been identified, the minister said.

Searchers have fanned out for 18 miles (30 kilometers) along Beirut’s coast, and about 5 miles (8 kilometers) out to sea, said an army official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak publicly.

Rescue teams have recovered some bodies and pieces of the plane, but hope for finding any survivors has faded. There were conflicting numbers of how many bodies have been found, although at least a dozen have been pulled out of the chilly waters.

In some of the areas where the search is taking place, the water is nearly two-thirds of a mile deep (one kilometer) and international search teams were using divers and sonar, said the military official. All debris recovered is being taken to a military base, he added.

Meteorologists said Wednesday that lightning struck in the flight’s path around the time of the crash in a strong storm.

“It was not your average, run of the mill thunderstorm,” AccuWeather.com meteorologist Jason Nicholls said. He said the information on the lightning strike came from a network of lightning detection systems in the region.

Ethiopian Foreign Minister Seyoum Mesfin cautioned against speculating about the cause of the crash, saying investigators still need to find the black boxes.

“It is not helpful, particularly to those who had their loved ones on board,” he told journalists in Beirut.

On Tuesday, Lebanon’s transportation minister said the pilot made a “fast and strange turn” minutes after takeoff.

Ghazi Aridi said the pilot initially followed the tower’s guidance, but then abruptly changed course and went in the opposite direction.

“Nobody is saying the pilot is to blame for not heeding orders,” he said, adding: “There could have been many reasons for what happened. … Only the black box can tell.”

Associated Press writers Zeina Karam and Elizabeth A. Kennedy contributed to this report from Beirut.

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