The Ethiopian Airlines jet that crashed off Lebanon was used by Ryanair until last April, its chief executive Michael O’Leary revealed yesterday.
He said the budget airline had sold the Boeing 737 – serial number 29935 – in April last year and it had previously been used on a number of its European routes.
The Irish Aviation Authority confirmed that the aircraft was a former Ryanair plane that had logged 17,750 flight hours in its seven years of service.
And planespotters came forward to say they had photographed the jet at British airports between 2002 and last year.
Mr O’Leary denied any liability in the accident, which saw 90 passengers killed, including Britons Afif Krisht, a 57-year-old businessman from Plymouth, and Kevin Grainger, 24.
‘What happened we don’t know,’ he said.
‘It’s a bit like selling your car and 11 months later the person driving it has a crash. It had nothing to do with us.’
The accident happened on Monday after the plane had taken off from Beirut bound for Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital.
Witnesses described seeing the plane crash into the sea and explode in a ‘ball of fire’. Investigators said it had left the airport on the wrong route and flown straight into a storm.
It comes as Lebanon’s transport minister revealed the pilot on board the flight went in the opposite direction from the path recommended by the Beirut control tower.
Ghazi Aridi said he was told ‘to correct his path but he did a very fast and strange turn before disappearing completely from the radar’ after taking off from Beirut’s Rafik Hariri International Airport.
All 90 people on board are feared dead – with so far 34 bodies pulled from the sea – after the plane went down in flames around at 2.30am during a night of lightning and thunderstorms.
Lebanese officials have ruled out terrorism or ‘sabotage’. The plane was headed to the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa.
Searchers are trying to locate the plane’s black box and flight data recorder, which are key to determining the cause of the crash.
Today, rescue teams and equipment sent from the U.N. and countries including the U.S. and Cyprus are helping in the search.
Pieces of the plane and other debris have been washing ashore, and emergency crews have pulled a large, one-metre-long piece of the plane from the water.
An aviation analyst familiar with the investigation said Beirut air traffic control was guiding the Ethiopian flight through the thunderstorms for the first three minutes of its flight.
The official, who asked not to be identified, said this was standard procedure by Lebanese controllers to assist airliners departing from the airport in poor weather conditions.
It is unclear exactly what happened in the last two minutes of flight, the official added.
Patrick Smith, a U.S.-based airline pilot and aviation writer, said there were many possible causes for the crash.
‘Had the plane encountered extreme turbulence, or had it suffered a powerful lightning strike that knocked out instruments while penetrating strong turbulence, then structural failure or loss of control, followed by an in-flight breakup, are possible causes,’ he said.
Ethiopian Airlines said on Monday that the pilot had more than 20 years of experience.
It did not give the pilot’s name or details of other aircraft the pilot had flown.
Ethiopian Airlines says the eight-year-old plane was leased from a division of U.S. financing company CIT Group and had its last routine maintenance on December, 25 last year.
It said the jet, a recent version of Boeing’s best-selling model, left the U.S. factory in 2002.