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Last Updated: Monday, 29 December, 2003, 08:48 GMT
Benin air crash dead flown home
Wreckage of crashed plane in surf
The aircraft plunged into the sea after take-off
The bodies of 77 Lebanese victims of a Christmas air crash in the West African state of Benin have arrived in Lebanon on a French military plane.

In Guinea, thousands of people gathered at the airport to receive the bodies of 24 Guinean victims of the crash, in which at least 130 died.

The Beirut-bound Boeing 727 was carrying 161 people, many travelling to spend Christmas with their families.

Lebanese reports suggest the chartered plane was overloaded.

Two Iranian dead were also taken to Beirut by the French military plane as well as families of victims of the crash.

Survivors included 12 Lebanese, two Palestinians and a Syrian who were flown to Beirut on Saturday while other survivors, including the co-pilot, received treatment for injuries.

The privately owned plane crashed into the sea shortly after taking off from the airport of Benin's major city, Cotonou.

'Major tragedy'

Correspondents say the accident was the worst civilian air accident in both Lebanese and Benin history.

Ali al-Durr, head of the Lebanese community in Benin, told Hezbollah's Al Manar Television that seven Lebanese passengers remain missing on Monday.

"Today is a major tragedy, not only for the families of the victims, but also for all Lebanese families," he said.

Fifteen returning Bangladeshi soldiers from the UN's peacekeeping mission in Sierra Leone also perished in the crash.


Lebanese Foreign Minister Jean Obeid said on Saturday the plane appeared to have been overloaded and the extra weight may have caused the crash.

Transport Minister Najib Mikati confirmed Lebanese air authorities had previously refused to register the plane.

"[They] were not satisfied with technical matters relating to it," he said.

The plane's operators, the Lebanese-owned Union des Transports Africains, have said it met all international obligations.

An investigation has been launched.

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

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