Ethiopian Airlines Flight 409 left Rafik Hariri International Airport in Beirut about 2:30 a.m. and was headed to the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa. A bad storm was in effect as the plane took off.
Within minutes after takeoff, the aircraft plunged into the sea off the coast of southern Lebanon into a great ball of fire according to witnesses.
Emergency crews were ordered to begin a "search and rescue" operation", which signalled that the Lebanese authorities have not yet abandoned hopes of finding survivors.
Of the 83 passengers and seven crew on board the stricken aircraft, 54 were Lebanese nationals and 22 were Ethiopians. Two passengers carried British passports, while Canadian, French, Russian, Iraqi and Syrian nationals were also listed on the passenger manifest. Among them was the wife of the French ambassador in Beirut, Marla Pietton.
Government-owned Ethiopian Airlines is one of the largest in Africa. And, according to CNN, the airline has such a commendable safety record that some expanding airlines in Asia have lured away its pilots at high pay, The New York Times reported in 2006.
Lebanese President Michel Suleiman said terrorism was not suspected in the crash. "Sabotage is ruled out as of now," he said. Prime minister Saad Hariri called today a National day of mourning for the victims aboard the flight and said "We are working to find the black box that will tell us what really happened on the plane."