Operation to retrieve Ethiopia plane’s black boxes – By Natacha Yazbeck (AFP)

January 28th, 2010 Print Print Email Email

BEIRUT — Search teams on Thursday sought to recover the black boxes from an Ethiopian aircraft that crashed off Lebanon’s coast, with hope the data would provide answers to the mystery surrounding the tragedy. (more…)

BEIRUT — Search teams on Thursday sought to recover the black boxes from an Ethiopian aircraft that crashed off Lebanon’s coast, with hope the data would provide answers to the mystery surrounding the tragedy.

“We expect to have them some time today,” Lebanese Transport Minister Ghazi Aridi told AFP.

He added that while search teams had picked up the flight data recorder signals, it remained unclear whether the boxes were still inside the body of the Boeing 737-800, which plunged into the Mediterranean on Monday with 90 people on board.

“If the black boxes are not in the body of the plane, it is easier to access them,” Aridi said. “But if they are still inside the plane, this will necessitate another procedure completely.”

The boxes were located in a seafloor trench and their recovery may take time, a defence ministry official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

US navy destroyer the USS Ramage picked up the signals late Wednesday approximately 10 kilometres (six miles) west of Beirut airport at a depth of 1,300 metres (4,265 feet) below sea level, an army spokesman told AFP, requesting anonymity.

The Ocean Alert, a civilian vessel stationed in Cyprus, was working to find and retrieve the device, he said. The vessel is equipped to access objects 2000 metres (6,561 feet) below sea level.

Ethiopian Airlines Flight 409, bound for Addis Ababa, crashed into the Mediterranean minutes after takeoff from Beirut at 2:37 am (0037 GMT) during a raging thunderstorm on Monday.

All 83 passengers and seven crew are presumed dead. Only 14 bodies, including those of two toddlers, and some body parts have been found so far.

Several Lebanese families have begun holding memorial services for their loved ones even though their bodies have not all been recovered.

Rescue officials have said a number of the bodies may still be strapped to their seats underwater and hope to recover them once they find the wreckage.

There were conflicting reports as to whether the jet exploded while airbound or after it had hit the water, and officials have said there will be no answers until the data from the black boxes is retrieved and analysed.

They have said they are counting on the flight data recorders to explain why the pilot veered off course on takeoff but have ruled out sabotage.

Ethiopian Airlines spokesperson Wogayehu Tefere said the pilot was experienced and had been with the company for 20 years.

The US National Transportation Safety Board and the French body for civil aviation security, the Bureau D’Enquetes et D’Analyses (BEA), have sent experts to join a team investigating the tragedy.

An international search operation was launched Monday by the Lebanese navy, the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), Ocean Alert, the USS Ramage and other vessels and helicopters.

Ethiopian Airlines has had two other deadly accidents over the past 25 years, one of which was a hijacking which ended in a crash when the plane ran out of fuel.

Flight 409 had 30 Ethiopian nationals on board, including the seven crew members. Most of the Ethiopian passengers were employed in Lebanon as domestic workers and were flying home to see their families.

There were also 54 Lebanese on board, most of them Shiites from southern Lebanon. Many were transiting in Addis Ababa to other countries in Africa, where they work.

Also among the passengers was Marla Sanchez Pietton, wife of France’s ambassador to Lebanon.

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