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Rescuers in Benin Search for Plane Crash Survivors - 2003-12-26

More than 100 people have died in Thursday's crash of a Lebanese chartered plane in the west African nation of Benin.

Divers, fishermen and rescue teams worked throughout the night and on Friday looking for survivors.

More than 20 people were taken alive from the wreckage, but at least four of them later died at a hospital in the commercial capital, Cotonou.

The Boeing-727 exploded and smashed into the sea, after clipping a building at the end of the beachfront runway at Cotonou's airport during take-off on Thursday afternoon.

Most of the passengers and crew aboard the Beirut-bound plane were Lebanese. It was unclear how many people exactly were on board.

A top municipal official in Cotonou, Lehady Soglo, thanked Christmas tourists at the beach for being the first to help survivors. He also thanked police and firefighters for their hard work. Mr. Soglo says most people died on impact.

But security efforts were slowed initially, while several emergency vehicles got stuck in the sand.

Chief of Cotonou's airport security, Jerome Dandjinou, is heading a special crisis team set up to investigate both rescue efforts and the crash. Mr. Dandjinou says all authorities in Benin and airport officials are cooperating to find out what went wrong and how survivors can be helped.

Aviation officials in Lebanon said the Lebanese-owned company, Union des Transports Africains, which operated the plane, had not been licensed in Lebanon, because it failed to meet safety requirements there.

But its planes were allowed to fly after the company registered in Guinea.

Technical problems had delayed this flight, which had originated Thursday morning in Guinea's capital Conakry, and stopped in Sierra Leone before picking up more passengers in Benin.