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Ethiopian Air Chief Says Reports on January Crash 'Misleading'

The head of Ethiopian Airlines is accusing Lebanese authorities of spreading misinformation about the cause of last month's plane crash that killed 90 people.

Ethiopian Airlines Chief Executive Girma Wake says much of the information coming from Lebanon about the crash of flight ET409 has been purposely meant to mislead. The plane crashed into the sea moments after takeoff from Beirut in stormy weather in the early morning hours of January 25.

There has been no official statement about the cause of the mishap. But Lebanese news agencies have quoted government ministers and sources close to the probe saying pilot error was to blame.

Speaking to reporters Wednesday, Wake said those statements appear to be politically motivated.

"If you look at people who give out this information, these are people who are not part of the investigation," said Girma Wake. "So they are politicians. And what would that tell you. I don't want to guess why they do this, but I can see the sensitivity of the issue in Lebanon, so to calm down people they may say things, but is this the right track to follow. I don't think that is the right way to go."

There had been widespread reports at the time of the crash that the Boeing jetliner had exploded in mid-air, and had been seen falling into the sea in pieces. Wake suggested the comments by Lebanese ministers may have been an attempt to pre-empt speculation about terrorism.

"A lot of war has been going on in Lebanon, the whole area has been full of political turmoil," he said. "Divisions within countries in the region. Because of that people can take their own wild guesses. The very fact it happened at Beirut airport at time when it is politically sensitive, does gives people to put their own thinking into it."

Wake urged Lebanese authorities to back away from what he called 'premature' claims, or risk an international incident.

"It is not in line with what our two countries have signed for," said Wake. "Are we out for a big war? I hope the investigators will put some sense into the investigation and come out with a proper working system, thereby avoiding a war between nations, between authorities, I'm hoping that may not be necessary, but we are not ready to accept a conclusion made without a proper analysis."

Wake also disputed news reports about the last words of the pilot. Accounts widely circulated on the internet say the pilot could be heard on the cockpit voice recorder saying 'We're finished. God have mercy on us'.

The airline chief said investigators had declined to tell him what the recorder had revealed about the final moments of the ill-fated flight. But he said they assured him the quote had been fabricated.

Lebanese media reported this week that a team of accident investigators had returned to Beirut from Paris, where the flight recorders were taken for examination. The reports said preliminary conclusions had been presented to Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, and that a full report is likely to be made public next week.