Lebanese authorities say they have found at least 34 bodies from an Ethiopian Airlines passenger plane that crashed into the Mediterranean Sea early Monday with 90 people on board.
The crash of the Boeing 737 jet shortly after take-off from Beirut prompted a major international rescue effort off the Lebanese coast. The search involves aircraft and vessels operated by the Lebanese military, United Nations peacekeepers in Lebanon, and U.S., British and Cypriot forces.
Officials say the bodies were recovered from the sea or washed up on the Lebanese shore, along with luggage, aircraft seats and other debris from the plane.
Lebanese Defense Minister Elias Murr says it appears bad weather caused the plane to break up in the air before crashing into the sea. Heavy rain and lightning were reported around the time of the crash. Murr says there is no evidence of a terrorist attack.
Lebanese officials say the Ethiopian Airlines jet was carrying 83 passengers and seven crew members on a flight to Addis Ababa. They say the passengers included 54 Lebanese, 22 Ethiopians and nationals of Britain, Canada, France, Iraq, Russia, Syria and Turkey.
Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri declared Monday a national day of mourning and went to Beirut's airport to try to comfort distraught family members of the passengers. One of those on board was Marla Pietton, the wife of French Ambassador to Lebanon Denis Pietton.
Witnesses on the Lebanese coast reported seeing a ball of fire as the plane plunged into the sea.
Ethiopian Airlines is considered one of Africa's best carriers and operates regular flights to Lebanon, where thousands of Ethiopians work as domestic helpers.
The airline says the plane that crashed last underwent a maintenance check on December 25, and no problems were found. The plane had been leased from a division of U.S. financing company CIT Group.
U.S. aircraft-maker Boeing says it is working with the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board to help Lebanese authorities investigate the crash.