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Last Updated: Saturday, 27 December, 2003, 12:59 GMT
Overloading blamed for air crash
Wreckage of crashed plane in surf
The aircraft plunged into the sea after take-off
Lebanon says overloading may have caused Thursday's plane crash in Benin that killed over 130 people, many of them Lebanese residents of West Africa.

After returning to Beirut with 15 survivors, Lebanon's Foreign Minister Jean Obeid said there seemed to have been too many people and bags on board.

Fifteen Bangladeshi UN peacekeepers were among those who died in the crash.

The Beirut-bound plane plunged into the sea shortly after taking off from Cotonou, the main city in Benin.

Twenty-two people survived, including the Lebanese pilot of the Boeing 727, which was carrying 161 people.

Most of those on board the plane were Lebanese nationals returning to Lebanon during the Christmas holiday. Cotonou has a large Lebanese community.

Mr Obeid said there should be an investigation in Lebanon, in addition to one already launched in Benin.

"It appears that the number of passengers exceeds the normal number, in addition to the load, which it appears was very much in excess," he told reporters in Beirut.

Bodies laid out on beach

A military spokesman in the Bangladesh capital, Dhaka, said its soldiers had been returning home on leave.

Thirteen of them had been serving as UN peacekeepers in Sierra Leone. Two others had been stationed in Liberia, he said.

Map of Benin in West Africa
Hundreds of emergency workers, troops and fishermen in Benin joined the recovery effort on Friday.

One of the aircraft's flight recorders was 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.

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."

Investigation

The plane belonged to a charter airline called Union des Transports Africains (UTA).

Survivors

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.


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



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