Ethiopian jet 'exploded'

2010-02-09 22:23

Beirut - An Ethiopian jet which crashed off Lebanon's coast last month exploded after take-off, Lebanon's health minister said on Tuesday in the first such official comment since the mysterious crash.

Remarks by Jawad Khalifeh could not be immediately confirmed by other officials in Beirut and came as Ethiopian Airlines said one of the plane's black boxes has been sent to France for analysis.

Khalifeh said: "The plane exploded during the flight and the bodies from those on board were dispersed in different locations into the sea.

"The first bodies that were retrieved following the crash were intact, but after that we began to find body pieces or mutilated corpses."

The transport minister, Ghazi Aridi, refused to comment on the reported explosion.

"I have no information about this."

Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737-800 plunged into the Mediterranean during a storm before dawn on January 25, just minutes after take-off from Beirut airport.

It was bound for Addis Ababa with 83 passengers and seven crew on board.

No survivors were found and searchers have been struggling to recover bodies as most victims were believed to be still strapped to their seats.

Lebanon has ruled out sabotage, blaming the bad weather for the tragedy, and officials have said the captain was instructed by the control tower to change to a certain heading but then the aircraft took a different course.