BEIRUT (AFP) – Authorities are hopeful that the black boxes of an Ethiopian jet which crashed into the sea off Lebanon will be recovered on Wednesday in order to shed light on why the plane veered off course on take-off.
“The black boxes have not been localised but we have made enormous progress,” an army spokesman told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“We are sounding the area where the plane went down and are making headway.”
He said emergency crews had worked non-stop since the plane went down on Monday but bad weather and murky waters had hampered the search.
“The more the weather improves the more efficient the search,” he said, noting sunny skies on Wednesday and a calm sea.
Transport Minister Ghazi Aridi also told AFP he was optimistic and that rescuers and salvage crews were making headway.
“We are in principle expecting results today,” he said.
Lebanese officials have ruled out foul play and said the bad weather was likely to blame.
Ethiopian Airlines Flight 409 tumbled in a ball of fire into the Mediterranean early Monday just minutes after take-off from Beirut in stormy weather.
The Boeing 737-800 bound for Addis Ababa had 90 passengers and crew on board. All are presumed dead and only 14 bodies and some body parts have been recovered so far.
Officials are counting on the black boxes to provide answers on the tragedy, especially as to why the pilot of the plane failed to heed instructions by the control tower.
Experts suspect that the aircraft may have flown into cumulonimbus thunder clouds which would cause the pilot to lose control of the jet.
Officials have cautioned against blaming the pilot.
“We cannot say at this point that there was pilot error because we don’t know what happened,” a defence ministry official told AFP.
“The pilot was told by the control tower to steer to the right but the plane went the other way, perhaps because it was too late by then and the plane was overtaken by the storm,” he added, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“He was an experienced pilot and maybe he was not able to follow instructions because of the storm.”
Other officials have said that the pilot, who had 20 years of experience and was familiar with the Boeing, had initially acknowledged the instructions before the jet suddenly went off in a different direction.
The defence ministry official said two boats from the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) as well as a US navy destroyer — the USS Ramage — and a civilian boat from Cyprus were each concentrating their search on a specific area at sea south of the airport and were using sonar equipment to locate the wreckage at a depth of between 50 and 150 meters.
“Of course were are confident we will find the plane but we can’t say when,” he said.
He said troops were also combing the entire Lebanese coastline.
Also Wednesday Ethiopian Foreign Minister Seyoun Misfin was meeting with Lebanese President Michel Sleiman, Prime Minister Saad Hariri and other officials to discuss the tragedy.