An Ethiopian Airlines plane carrying 90 people crashed into the Mediterranean Sea early Monday just minutes after takeoff from Beirut.
Four bodies were recovered in the hours after the crash as authorities combed through the choppy waters under gray skies, a Lebanese military official said. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly.
The cause of the crash was not immediately known, but a police official ruled out terrorism and said the crash was likely weather-related. Beirut has seen heavy rain and lightning since Sunday.
The Boeing 737-800 took off around 2:30 a.m. (7:30 p.m. EST) for the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, said Ghazi Aridi, the public works and transportation minister.
“The weather undoubtedly was very bad,” Aridi told reporters at the airport. He added that the plane went down about 2 miles (3.5 kilometers) off the Lebanese coast.
The Lebanese army said in a statement saying the plane was “on fire shortly after takeoff.”
The wife of the French ambassador to Lebanon was on the plane, according to an embassy official who asked that his name not be used because of the sensitivity of the matter.
Helicopters and naval ships were scrambled for a rescue effort amid intermittent rain, thunder and lightning.
The plane was carrying 90 people, including 83 passengers and 7 crew. Aridi identified the passengers as 54 Lebanese, 22 Ethiopians, one Iraqi, one Syrian, one Canadian of Lebanese origin, one Russian of Lebanese origin, a French woman and two Britons of Lebanese origin.
Ethiopian Airlines reported that there were 82 passengers and eight crew; the discrepancy could not immediately be explained.
Ethiopian Airlines has long had a reputation for high-quality service compared to other African airlines, with two notable crashes in more than 20 years.