An Ethiopian Airlines plane carrying 90 people caught fire and crashed into the sea just after taking off from Beirut early Monday. Experts speculate that an engine malfunctioned – possibly caused by a bird strike – shortly after take off.
The cause of the crash was not immediately known. Lebanon has seen stormy weather since Sunday night, with crackling thunder, lightning and rain, but experts say that weather alone is unlikely to be the cause.
The Boeing 737-800 took off around 2:30 a.m. (7:30 p.m. EST) and went down 2 miles (3.5 kilometers) off the coast, said Ghazi Aridi, the public works and transportation minister. The Lebanese army said in a statement the plane was on fire shortly after takeoff.
The wife of Denis Pietton, the French ambassador to Lebanon, was on the plane, according to the French embassy.
Helicopters and naval ships were scrambled for a rescue effort as huge waves slammed into the shore. Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri announced a day of mourning and closed schools and government offices.
Ethiopian Airlines’ CEO Girma Wake told journalists in Addis Ababa that he had no information on the fate of those on board or about the cause of the crash. He said the aircraft had been serviced on Dec. 25 and passed inspection.