(photo credit: AP)
An Ethiopian Airlines plane with 90 people on board crashed into the sea early Monday just minutes after takeoff from Beirut, the country's transportation minister said.
The cause was not immediately known. But police ruled out terrorism and said the crash was likely weather-related. It had been raining heavily in Beirut on Sunday, and lightning had occasionally struck.
The Boeing 737-800 took off around 2:30 a.m. for the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, said Ghazi Aridi, Lebanon's 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 3.5 kilometers off the Lebanese coast.
Helicopters and naval ships were deployed to find the plane, but came up unsuccessful.
Ethiopian Airlines released a statement on its Web site confirming the plane was missing.
"A team is already working on gathering all pertinent information," the statement said. "An investigative team has already been dispatched to the scene and we will release further information as further updates are received."
Calls to the airline were not immediately returned.
The plane was carrying 90 people, including 83 passengers and 7 crew members. 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.
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.