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Last Updated: Saturday, 27 December, 2003, 03:39 GMT
Probe starts into Benin air crash
Wreckage of crashed plane in surf
The aircraft plunged into the sea after take-off
Hundreds of emergency workers, troops and fishermen in Benin have joined the recovery effort following Thursday's plane crash.

So far 135 bodies have been found, an official told the BBC on Friday.

Twenty-two people are said to have survived, including the Boeing 727's Lebanese pilot.

The Beirut-bound plane plunged into the sea shortly after taking off from Cotonou, the main city in Benin, where there is a large Lebanese community.

Most of those on board the plane were Lebanese nationals who were returning to Lebanon during the Christmas holiday.

One of the aircraft's flight recorders have been recovered and investigators hope it will help to identify the reasons behind the crash.

On Friday Lebanese divers and medical staff joined the rescue efforts. Thousands of Beninois looked on as the divers pulled the plane's wreckage out of the Atlantic Ocean.

Map of Benin in West Africa
Bodies were laid out on the beach, which was thronged by onlookers as well as emergency workers.

Many of the survivors were in the back of the aircraft and managed to swim the hundred metres or so to shore after it crashed into the sea.

One survivor said: "Everything went blank in front of us. I found myself in the sea, I looked around and I saw my son.

"I took him to the beach, I went back to the sea, saw my wife and took her to the beach as well. I couldn't find my little girl."


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.

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


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