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Last Updated: Friday, 26 December, 2003, 18:16 GMT
Airliner crash kills 135 in Benin
Wreckage of crashed plane in surf
The aircraft plunged into the sea after take-off
At least 135 people were killed as a plane plunged into the sea off the West African state of Benin on Thursday.

The chartered Boeing 727 bound for Beirut crashed shortly after take-off from the country's main city, Cotonou.

Benin Government ministers said 22 people had survived. At least 140 people are believed to have been on board when the plane went down.

Most of the victims of UTA Flight 141 are thought to have been Lebanese nationals going home for Christmas.

Reports say the plane's landing gear failed to retract after take-off.

An airport official quoted by the Associated Press news agency said the plane hit a building at the end of the runway as it was taking off.

The plane then exploded and fell into the sea.

Lebanese community

There is a large Lebanese community in West Africa, where they dominate much of the commerce.

The plane belonged to a charter airline called Union des Transports Africains (UTA). It is reportedly controlled by Guinean and Lebanese owners, and is unrelated to the former French airline UTA.


The company operates between Africa, Lebanon, and Dubai.

It had been denied registration in Lebanon for failing to fulfil "technical requirements", the Lebanese press quoted Transport Minister Najib Miqati as saying.

UTA Flight 141 originated in Conakry, the capital of Guinea, and had stopped in Freetown in Sierra Leone, before landing in Cotonou. It was bound for Beirut and Dubai.

Dozens of bodies floated among the plane's wreckage about 150 metres (yards) off a Cotonou beach.

Fishermen and residents waded into the water to search for survivors and recover the dead.

Night search

As the night fell, rescuers set up powerful lights on the crash site to continue their search.

Witnesses on the scene said it took navy divers hours to arrive after the crash - and reports say they were heckled when they finally did come.

Map of Benin in West Africa
Those in the front were the most hurt - may God's mercy fall on them
Crash survivor

One of the survivors told Lebanese television that he was in the back of the plane and was able to swim to safety.

"Those in the front were the most hurt," he said. "May God's mercy fall on them. It was a horrible scene."

The Lebanese Government is sending a plane to collect survivors and victims. It is expected on Friday.

Lebanese government officials are rescue teams are also expected to arrive on the scene.

The BBC's Tim Awford
"Fishermen and families on the beach were first on the scene"

In pictures: Benin air crash
25 Dec 03  |  Photo Gallery
Country profile: Benin
27 May 03  |  Country profiles


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