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111 killed in Benin plane crash
( 2003-12-27 10:07) (Agencies)

Rescuers are searching for survivors after a Beirut-bound charter jet crashed on takeoff from a coastal airport in the West African country of Benin, killing at least 111, officials say. 

About two dozens bodies and the plane's cockpit were found on the beach after the crash, which occurred Thursday afternoon as the Boeing 727 took off from the airport in Cotonou, Benin's commercial capital on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean.

Divers and fishermen -- braving dark and cold waters -- swam through scattered pieces of luggage, clothes and wrapped Christmas gifts, while tractors tied chains to parts of the plane, including an engine, to clear away the wreckage, The Associated Press reported.

Benin Health Minister Celine Seignon Kandissounon told reporters that 111 people were now confirmed dead. At least 20 people survived, said Transport Minister Ahmed Akobi.

It was unclear exactly how many people were aboard the aircraft. Akobi said the plane's manifest listed 156 passengers and an unknown number of crew, AP reported.

"The back of the plane hit a building at the end of the runway. There was a fire and an explosion was heard," said Jerome Dandjinou, a senior airport security official.

"The plane exploded and the debris fell into the water."

Most of the passengers were Lebanese on their way home for the holidays, AP said. Thousands of Lebanese immigrants live and work in Benin.

"This is all too much for me to handle," said Akim Toufik, one of about 50 Lebanese who gathered along the shore to identify friends or family members.

Benin President Mathieu Kerekou also visited the crash site.

The flight originated in the Guinean capital Conakry, and stopped in Freetown, Sierra Leone, picking up the Lebanese along the way.

It was bound for Beirut, Lebanese Transportation Minister Najib Mikati told AP.

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