Ethiopian pilot ignored control tower before crash: minister
Tue, Jan 26, 2010

BEIRUT - An Ethiopian airliner that crashed into the sea off Lebanon on Monday failed to follow instructions from a flight control tower for unknown reasons, Lebanon's defence minister said.

"A command tower recording shows the tower told the pilot to turn to avoid the storm, but the plane went in the opposite direction," Defence Minister Elias Murr said in a television interview.

"We do not know what happened or whether it was beyond the pilot's control," he added.

Ethiopian Airlines Flight 409 lost contact with Beirut airport shortly after takeoff at 02:37 am (0037 GMT) and crashed into the Mediterranean 2.5 nautical miles from the town of Naameh, south of the airport, in stormy weather.

So far rescuers have failed to find any survivors from the 90 people on board, and Murr said the official death toll would be limited to bodies delivered to the state hospital in Beirut.

Red Cross volunteers on Monday transported 14 bodies and some body parts to the Rafik Hariri state hospital.

Murr's statements came after Prime Minister Saad Hariri chaired an emergency meeting with officials including Murr, Health Minister Mohammed Jawad Khalifeh, army commander Jean Kahwaji and police chief Ashraf Rifi.

The Lebanese army, navy, the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) and aircraft from France, Britain, Cyprus and the United States were all assisting in rescue efforts, officials said.

An American destroyer, the USS Ramage which specialises in rescue operations, arrived on site at 4:00 pm (1400 GMT), a US embassy spokesman said.

But officials said hopes of finding any survivors were quickly fading as the search pushed on.

"We hope (to find survivors) but it's unlikely," Health Minister Mohammed Jawad Khalifeh told reporters.

Of the 83 passengers, 54 were Lebanese, 23 Ethiopians, one French, one British, one Iraqi, one Syrian, one Turkish and another of as yet undetermined nationality.

The French passenger was identified as Marla Sanchez Pietton, wife of Paris's ambassador to Lebanon, Denis Pietton, the French embassy told AFP.

Three of the Lebanese passengers had dual nationality from Britain, Canada and Russia.


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