Investigators were tonight carrying out DNA tests on severely burned bodies recovered from the sea after an Ethiopian Airlines flight tragedy.
As darkness fell no survivors had been found in the stormy waters off Lebanon, despite search and rescue efforts by the country's military, UN naval peacekeepers and units from nearby Cyprus who were tonight joined by British and French helicopter teams.
The plane's 83 passengers included 56 Lebanese – two with dual British nationality – 22 Ethiopians and individuals from Canada, Syria, Iraq and Russia, as well as the American-born wife of the French ambassador to Lebanon. By tonight at least 34 bodies had been recovered.
Lebanon's president, Michel Suleiman, said terrorism was not suspected in the crash of the Boeing 737-800, which was headed for the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa. "Sabotage is ruled out as of now," he said. Lebanon's defence minister, Elias Murr, blamed bad weather for the crash. An official investigation has been launched, but the plane's black box has yet to be recovered.
Several eyewitnesses reported hearing an explosion and seeing a ball of flame in the sky just after 2.30am today, during a fierce winter thunderstorm.
The prime minister, Saad Hariri, who toured the crash site by helicopter, declared a day of mourning in honour of the dead. "This is a tragedy for Lebanon, and we are working to find the missing passengers," he told reporters.
Mothers and relatives of those killed wept and screamed as ambulances brought the burned bodies for identification at the governmental hospital in Beirut. At the airport families of those missing sat in shock, waiting for news, some weeping silently, others collapsing as they tried to walk outside.
Specialist trauma psychologists were sent to the airport to try and comfort distraught families.
Guardian com. uk. has contributed to the report.