Flight recorders from the Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 that crashed into the sea off Beirut with 90 people on board are close to being retrieved, the carrier said.
“We now know that the black box has been located and we anticipate that it will be recovered shortly,” the Addis Ababa- based airline said on its Web site. Calls to Chief Executive Officer Girma Wake seeking further information weren’t returned.
Ghazi Al-Aridi, Lebanon’s public works and transport minister, said by telephone that while “signals were heard from the depths where the search is taking place,” the flight-data and cockpit-voice recorders haven’t yet been pinpointed.
Flight ET409 lost contact with air traffic controllers in stormy weather minutes after takeoff from Beirut’s Rafik Hariri International Airport on Jan. 25. No one is thought to have survived and only 15 bodies have been recovered in a search aided by United Nations, British, French and U.S. forces.
Efforts to locate the plane are focused about 6 kilometers (3.7 miles) offshore and have been extended to waters as much as 1,500 meters deep (4,900 feet), according to Lebanese army Brigadier Saleh Haj Suleiman, who said preparations are being made in the event of the fuselage being found.
The pilot of the Boeing didn’t follow directions from the control tower, Aridi said two days ago. That doesn’t mean he was responsible for the crash and no conclusion can be reached until voice and data recorders are found, the minister said.
Lebanese Defense Minister Elias Murr has said that the “weather factor” was the likely cause of the incident, while meteorologists at AccuWeather.com said lightning is believed to have struck the plane’s path around the time of its departure.
There is no evidence of terrorism, according to Michel Suleiman, the country’s president, while the plane, registration ET-ANB, had its regular maintenance service on Christmas Day and was declared fit to fly, Ethiopian Airlines has said.
The flight, bound for the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, was carrying 51 Lebanese and 23 Ethiopians, together with two people from British and one each from Turkey, France, Russia, Canada, Syria and Iraq. The eight crew were all from Ethiopia.
The crash was the first involving Ethiopian Airlines since 1988, excluding a fatal hijacking in 1996, according to data from aviation consultant Ascend, and the fourth fatal accident involving the new generation 737, introduced 12 years ago.