Beirut, Asharq Al-Awsat- A tense atmosphere prevailed in Lebanon yesterday after a US warship and the “Ocean Alert” ship failed to locate the black box on the eighth day of the ill-fated Ethiopian plane which crashed in a storm, with all 90 people on board presumed dead.
Anger flared up after a body and some limbs floated off Al-Naimah coast yesterday with many observers claiming that the foreign ships were wasting time or were not doing their work as required but instead were waiting for the bodies to float ashore by themselves. Some even considered the Western ships to be exploiting this chance to photograph the coast and depths which Hezbollah overlooks, especially as this sea area could be a possible site in any future battle between the party and Israel, and this is a golden opportunity for the Americans.
A commentator in the south says: “Even if they found the plane, they would not announce it and would continue their search. They will not leave anything but photograph it. They will not have a second chance to photograph this coast from where the Hezbollah missile was fired at the Israeli gunboat in 2006. They are operating alone without the presence of any Lebanese officer with them aboard the ship.”
The failure of the foreign ships to yield any results after eight days of searching has raised questions and did not impress the local population, some of whom are saying: “We would have found our sons if they had let us take the boats and search for them.” Muhammad al-Sariji, doyen of Lebanese divers, does not hide his anger and says “the dismal failure of foreign ships is not coincidental. They are searching the area where the plane did not sink in the first place. I am following up their work daily, here, from this coast and can say their work is not systematical. There are suspicions.” As to their technological capabilities or their haphazard way of operation, they searched in Khaldah and then we saw them sail north to Al-Manarah, Beirut, and then return to Khaldah. This means that the operation is to a large extent haphazard.”
Al-Sariji adds: “It is not a complicated case and pinpointing the location of the plane is not as difficult as they want us to think. The plane crashed and there was a storm coming from the southwest, that is, from the direction of Sidon. It threw the bodies that were found almost one hour after the crash near Khaldah. This means that the source of the bodies is south of Khaldah area. Why are they searching north of Khaldah and reaching Beirut? It would be enough to follow the line of the bodies where they were found and move southward to find the plane’s debris. The bodies drew almost a route to the plane’s location and this is what the searchers are ignoring today.” He went on to say: “A body was found today in Al-Naimah area, four km from the coast, where the depth is 38 meters. We are asking why do they not let us, as an association of divers, scan this area from the coast, from San Simon to Al-Naimah with 10 to 15 boats. We might not find anything and might find dozens of bodies in this spot. But to find 15 bodies out of 90 despite all the technological capabilities that were brought in and they were the ones which floated to the surface on their own, is perplexing.”
Lebanese officials said yesterday that a male body presumed to be one of the 90 people on board the Ethiopian airliner had been recovered. The male corpse, which has been transferred to the Rafik Hariri state hospital in Beirut, would bring to 15 the number of bodies recovered from the Boeing 737-800 that crashed into the sea soon after takeoff during a raging thunderstorm early on January 25.
No survivors from Ethiopian Airlines Flight 409 have been found.