Ethiopian plane black box found, toll reaches 32

Last Updated: Tue, Jan 26, 2010 18:51 hrs

Beirut: Two more bodies were recovered on Tuesday after an Ethiopian Airlines Boeing carrying 90 people plunged into the sea off Lebanon's coast shortly after take-off from Beirut the day before.

Officials said the find brought to 32 the number of bodies recovered from the crash in which all occupants of the plane are presumed to have died.

At various points along the coastline, Lebanese soldiers were seen carrying bodies, body parts and large pieces of the plane.

Lebanese media said late Tuesday that US rescue teams managed with their advanced equipment to pinpoint the location of the black box of the Ethiopian plane.

The reports said the black box was found at a depth of 500 metres and was to be recovered Wednesday.

Rescue teams meanwhile continued to scour the Mediterranean in better weather a day after the crash.

Flight 409 from Beirut to Addis Ababa lost contact with air traffic control at Beirut-Rafic Hariri International Airport in stormy weather shortly after takeoff. Minutes later, the aircraft crashed off the coast.

Health Minister Mohammed Khalifeh said some of the bodies that have been recovered since Monday were transferred to Beirut Governmental Hospital for DNA analysis.

"We already today identified some three bodies and they were handed to their families," Khalifeh said.

A hospital source told DPA that most of the bodies taken to the hospital showed severe neck and head injuries.

A Lebanese army officer told dpa that foreign rescue teams using advanced equipment had pinpointed the exact location of the crash.

He said rescuers believe the bodies of the remaining victims were still strapped in their seats inside what was left of the plane.

Initial information from air traffic control tower recordings indicate that the airliner appeared to have flown into a violent storm.

"A traffic control recording shows that the tower told the pilot to turn to avoid the storm, but the plane went in the opposite direction," Defence Minister Elias Murr said. "We do not know what happened or whether it was beyond the pilot's control."

Images: Ethiopian airliner crashes

According to an airport official, violent cumulonimbus - thunder clouds - can lead to the destruction of even the biggest aircraft. He added that airline pilots usually fly around them, guided by their own weather radar equipment or sometimes by ground controllers.

"We have to find the black box because all the truth lies there," Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri was quoted as saying.

Lebanon has ruled out terrorism and blamed the crash on bad weather conditions.

The US embassy in Beirut said Tuesday the National Transportation Safety Board would dispatch an aviation investigator and technical advisors from the Federal Aviation Administration and Boeing to assist Lebanese authorities in their probe.

The US has provided a P-3 aircraft which has thermal radar that can detect bodies and metal under water for the search and rescue operation. Britain and France also sent helicopters.

The passengers on the Ethiopian plane included Lebanese, Ethiopian, Iraqi, French and Syrian nationals. Several passengers with dual nationality were also on board.