BEIRUT – An Ethiopian Airlines plane carrying 90 people crashed into the Mediterranean Sea early today just minutes after takeoff from Beirut, authorities said.
Four bodies were recovered in the hours after the crash as authorities combed through the choppy waters under gray skies, a Lebanese military official said. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly.
The cause of the crash was not immediately known, but a police official ruled out terrorism and said the crash was likely weather-related. Beirut has seen heavy rain and lightning since Sunday.
The Boeing 737-800 took off around 2:30 a.m. for the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, said Ghazi Aridi, the public works and transportation minister.
“The weather undoubtedly was very bad,” Aridi told reporters at the airport. He added that the plane went down about 2 miles off the Lebanese coast.
The Lebanese army said in a statement saying the plane was “on fire shortly after takeoff.”
The wife of the French ambassador to Lebanon was on the plane, according to an embassy official who asked that his name not be used because of the sensitivity of the matter.
Helicopters and naval ships were scrambled for a rescue effort amid intermittent rain, thunder and lightning.
Ethiopian Airlines released a statement on its Web site confirming the plane was missing.
“A team is already working on gathering all pertinent information,” the statement said. “An investigative team has already been dispatched to the scene and we will release further information as further updates are received.”
Calls to the airline were not immediately returned.
The plane was carrying 90 people, including 83 passengers and 7 crew. Aridi identified the passengers as 54 Lebanese, 22 Ethiopians, one Iraqi, one Syrian, one Canadian of Lebanese origin, one Russian of Lebanese origin, a French woman and two Britons of Lebanese origin.