BEIRUT—An Ethiopian Airlines plane carrying 90 people caught fire and crashed into the sea minutes after taking off from Beirut early Monday, setting off a frantic search as passenger seats, baby sandals and other debris washed ashore.
At least 34 bodies were recovered.
The cause of the crash was not immediately known. Lebanon has seen stormy weather since Sunday night, with crackling thunder, lightning and pouring rain.
Lebanese President Michel Suleiman said terrorism was not suspected in the crash of Flight 409, which was headed for the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa.
"Sabotage is ruled out as of now," he said.
Weeping relatives streamed into Beirut's airport to wait for news on their loved ones. One woman dropped to her knees in tears; another cried out, "Where is my son?"
Andree Qusayfi said his 35-year-old brother, Ziadh, was traveling to Ethiopia for his job at a computer company, but was planning to return to Lebanon for good soon.
"We begged him to postpone his flight because of the storm," Qusayfi said, his eyes red from crying. "But he insisted on going because he had work appointments."
Zeinab Seklawi said her 24-year-old son Yasser called her as he was boarding.
"I told him, 'God be with you,' and I went to sleep," Seklawi said. "Please find my son. I know he's alive and wouldn't leave me."
The dead include several children, according to a Lebanese defense official who asked that his name not be used because he is not authorized to speak to publicly.
The Boeing 737-800 took off around 2:30 a.m. (7:30 p.m. EST) and went down 2 miles (3.5 kilometers) off the coast, said Ghazi Aridi, the public works and transportation minister. The Lebanese army said in a statement the plane was "on fire shortly after takeoff."
"The weather undoubtedly was very bad," Aridi told reporters at the airport.
Pieces of the plane and debris were washing ashore in the hours after the crash, including passenger seats, a baby sandal, a fire extinguisher and bottles of medicine.
The wife of Denis Pietton, the French ambassador to Lebanon, was on the plane, according to the French embassy.
Helicopters and naval ships were scrambled for a rescue effort as huge waves slammed into the shore. Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri announced a day of mourning and closed schools and government offices.
A statement from the defense ministry in Cyprus, which sent reinforcements to help in the search, said 34 bodies have been recovered so far.
Ethiopian Airlines' CEO Girma Wake told journalists in Addis Ababa that he had no information on the fate of those on board or about the cause of the crash. He said the aircraft had been serviced on Dec. 25 and passed inspection.
He also said the plane had been leased in September from CIT Aerospace. Calls to CIT Aerospace were not immediately returned Monday.