BEIRUT (Reuters) – Search teams retrieved on Sunday flight recorders belonging to an Ethiopian Airlines plane that crashed off the coast of Lebanon last month killing all 90 people aboard.
Lebanese Transport Minister Ghazi Aridi said navy commandos had also located parts of the fuselage of the plane, where most of the victims’ bodies are believed trapped. Eight bodies were recovered.
A security official said the main part of the “black box” containing the voice recorder was retrieved hours after teams recovered the jet’s data recorder. The boxes were transported to Beirut’s naval base and handed to the investigating team.
The recorders will be flown to France for analysis, the official said.
“The priority now is searching for the rest of the bodies of victims,” Aridi told Reuters.
The Boeing 737-800 plane, carrying mostly Lebanese and Ethiopian passengers, crashed minutes after taking off from Beirut in stormy weather, plunging in a ball of fire into the sea. It was bound for the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa.
The flight recorders should provide a clearer picture of why the pilot failed to respond to the control tower’s request to change direction, even though he acknowledged their commands.
The plane had apparently made a sharp turn before disappearing off the radar. Lebanese officials have said it was too early to draw any conclusion of pilot error.
Lebanese and international teams, including a U.S. navy vessel, have been searching the Mediterranean along the southern Beirut coast for bodies and wreckage. They have retrieved the plane’s rear wings and the cockpit in the last 24 hours.
A security source said several bodies had been located and eight recovered, bringing to 23 the number of victims found since the crash. Stormy weather has hampered the search several times in the last two weeks.
The bodies would be taken to Beirut’s main government hospital for DNA identification.
The eight-year-old plane last had a maintenance check on December 25 and no technical problems were found.
(Writing by Yara Bayoumy; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall/David Stamp)