Lebanese minister rules out explosion on Ethiopian plane and says it had no technical problems

By Bassem Mroue, AP
Thursday, February 11, 2010

Lebanese minister rules out bomb on Ethiopian jet

BEIRUT — The cause of last month’s Ethiopian Airlines crash into the Mediterranean appears to be neither a technical problem nor an explosion, a top Lebanese official said Thursday, without elaborating on what it actually could be.

The Boeing 737 crashed on Jan. 25, just minutes after takeoff from Beirut during a fierce thunderstorm. All 90 people on board died.

Asked whether the reason behind the “catastrophe” was a pilot error, Transportation Minister Ghazi Aridi said that no final conclusion could be reached until the cockpit voice recorder, retrieved Wednesday, is analyzed. He said the recorder is still missing a key part and divers are searching for it.

He said the data flight recorder, that was found on Sunday and sent to France for analysis, registered “information and is documented second by second.”

His comments came a day after Ethiopian Airlines said in a statement it had not ruled out the possibility of sabotage but that it was “too early to conclude the cause” of the crash.

Within hours of the crash, Lebanese officials had said there was no indication of terrorism or sabotage on board Flight 409, which was headed for the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa.

“From the technical side, all the plane’s systems were functioning properly until the moment of the crash,” Aridi told reporters. “An explosion is ruled out.”

A day after the crash, Aridi said the plane’s pilot made a “fast and strange turn” minutes after takeoff from Beirut. He added then that the plane flew in the opposite direction from the path recommended by the control tower after taking off in stormy weather.

Days later, weather experts said lightning had struck in the plane’s path around the time of the deadly crash.

The crash prompted a search and rescue operation that included U.N. peacekeepers, and U.S. and Lebanese navies. DNA samples were collected from relatives of the victims in Lebanon, Ethiopia and other countries to help identify bodies pulled out of the sea.

The black boxes are being analyzed by BEA, a French agency that specializes in assisting with technical investigations of air crashes.

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