By Natacha Yazbeck (AFP) – Jan 29, 2010
BEIRUT — Search teams swept the Mediterranean seabed off the coast of Beirut on Friday for the black boxes of an Ethiopian airliner which crashed in a storm, with all 90 people on board presumed dead.
"We are still looking. We have combed two-thirds of the area," Transport Minister Ghazi Aridi told AFP.
Searchers on Wednesday picked up the signals of the black boxes from the Boeing 737-800 which crashed two days earlier, and are now trying to pinpoint their exact location.
Information Minister Tarek Mitri has said that the flight data and cockpit voice recorders are thought to be about 14 kilometres (nine miles) off the coast south of the airport at a depth of 1,500 metres (4,920 feet).
The Ocean Alert, a privately operated US vessel, has been sweeping the area in which the signals were detected. The ship is equipped to reach objects 2,000 metres (6,561 feet) deep.
Once the boxes are retrieved, they will be sent to a decoding centre overseas, possibly in France, sources close to the investigation told AFP.
Ethiopian Airlines Flight 409, bound for Addis Ababa, crashed early on Monday just minutes after takeoff from Beirut during a raging thunderstorm.
All 83 passengers and seven crew are presumed dead. Most of those on board were Ethiopians and Lebanese.
Only 14 bodies, including those of two toddlers, and body parts have been found so far.
Rescue officials have said a number of the victims may still be strapped to their seats underwater.
The father of Lebanese diver Albert Assal, a passenger on the flight, died of "heartbreak" on Friday, his family told local television.
"After my brother went down, my father said that losing a child is like being buried alive. He was broken-hearted. This morning he died of cardiac arrest," the crash victim's brother said.
"My son is a hero. If he had been able to unbuckle his seat belt, he could have swum to shore," Assal's mother said. "And now his father is with him."
Memorial services for the victims of the crash were held across Lebanon on Friday and were set to continue through the weekend.
There were conflicting reports as to whether the jet exploded while airborne or after it had hit the water, and officials have said there will be no answers until the data from the black boxes is retrieved and analysed.
Officials want to know why the plane veered off course after takeoff, but have ruled out sabotage.
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