BEIRUT — The first sign of trouble was a flash of light on the horizon Monday — and then witnesses said the Boeing 737 tumbled like "fire falling down from the sky" into the stormy Mediterranean Sea.
All 90 aboard were feared dead in the predawn crash. Lebanon's leaders ruled out terrorism while investigators collected witness accounts in hopes they could provide clues.
Aviation experts cautioned it was too early to know what brought down the Ethiopian Airlines jet — particularly without the black boxes.
Many people were giving DNA samples to help identify the remains of their loved ones; one man identified his 3-year-old nephew by the boy's overalls.
"Please find my son," pleaded Zeinab Seklawi, whose 24-year-old son Yasser was on Flight 409, which was headed to the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa.
At the Government Hospital in Beirut, Red Cross workers brought in bodies covered with wool blankets as relatives gathered nearby. No survivors had been found by nightfall, and the health minister told reporters 21 bodies were recovered.
Marla Pietton, wife of the French ambassador to Lebanon, was among those on board, according to the French Embassy.
The Boeing 737-800 took off at about 2:30 a.m. in driving rain, lightening and thunder, and went down two miles off the coast, said Ghazi Aridi, the public works and transportation minister.
Hours after the crash, pieces of the plane and other debris were washing ashore, including a child's sandal, passenger seats, a fire extinguisher, suitcases and bottles of medicine.
The Lebanese army also said the plane was on fire shortly after takeoff. A defense official said some witnesses reported the plane broke into three pieces.