Beirut: An Ethiopian Airlines plane with 90 people on board crashed into the sea early on Monday just minutes after takeoff from Beirut, Lebanon's transportation minister said.
The cause was not immediately known. But police 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. (7:30 p.m. EST) 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 (3.5 kilometers) off the Lebanese coast.
Helicopters and naval ships were scrambled to find the plane. 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. Relatives of the passengers began arriving at the airport early on Monday, many of them crying and hugging. Officials led them into a VIP area.
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.