Transport Minister: Lebanon refused to grant license to airline company that crashed off Benin

Published December 25th, 2003 - 02:00 GMT

Lebanon refused to grant a licence to charter company UTA, whose sole aircraft crashed on take-off from Cotonou airport in Benin killing at least 80 people, Transport Minister Najib Mikati said. 


Mikati said, "The company that owned the aircraft had several months ago applied for a license from the civil aviation authority in Beirut, but its application was refused because it did not meet the requisite technical conditions," Mikati was quoted by ANI news agency as saying.  


"Like all other airlines, it had access to Beirut airport because of the open-skies policy," he said.  


The UTA charter is registered in Guinea but belongs to Lebanese immigrants, numerous in west Africa.  


It had one aircraft, a Boeing 727, which plied the route between Conakry in Guinea, the Sierra Leone capital Freetown, Cotonou in Benin, Beirut and Dubai, Mikati said.  


Witnesses have said the plane hit a building at the end of the runway as it was taking off, burst into flame and crashed into the sea.  


The Lebanese minister said one of the owners of UTA was on board the plane.  


Meanwhile, a delegation from Lebanon, including foreign ministry officials, is expected to travel to Benin to oversee rescue operations and the repatriation of victims, Information Minister Michel Samaha told AFP.  


In addition, the head of Lebanon's national Middle East Airlines (MEA), Mohammad al-Hut, said a special MEA flight would leave Beirut for Cotonou at 11:00 pm (2100 GMT), taking medics and rescue workers to the scene of the crash.  


LBCI television said among the dead were two people who had caught the plane at the last minute, rushing back to attend the funeral of relatives who died in a Christmas Eve fire at their home near Beirut. (

© 2003 Al Bawaba (

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