Twenty-one bodies have been recovered following the fiery crash of an Ethiopian Airlines jet in the Mediterranean Sea on Monday morning.

Ninety people were on board the Boeing 737-800 -- including one Canadian citizen -- when it caught fire shortly after takeoff from a Beirut airport. It crashed into the sea shortly after 2:30 a.m., local time.

"We saw fire falling down from the sky into the sea," said Khaled Naser, a gas station attendant who saw the plane go down.

Lebanon's public works and transportation minister, Ghazi Aridi, said the plane went down about 3.5 kilometres off the coast.

By nightfall, no survivors had been found.

Health Minister Mohammed Jawad Khalife told reporters that emergency workers had recovered 21 bodies by the end of the day, correcting an earlier report from the Cypress defence ministry that said 34 bodies had been found.

The cause of the crash is not immediately known, though Lebanon has seen stormy weather since Sunday evening.

Aridi told reporters "the weather undoubtedly was very bad."

Lebanese President Michel Suleiman said terrorism is not suspected in the crash of Flight 409, which was headed to Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital.

"Sabotage is ruled out as of now," he said.

Pieces of the plane and other debris have washed ashore in the aftermath of the crash, including passenger seats, a baby sandal and bottles of medicine.

One man identified his three-year-old nephew by the overalls the boy was wearing.

Aridi said the plane's 83 passengers included 54 Lebanese citizens, 22 Ethiopians, one Iraqi, one Syrian, one Canadian of Lebanese origin, one Russian of Lebanese origin, a French woman and two Britons of Lebanese origin.

The nationality of the plane's seven crew members was not immediately released.

In Ottawa, Foreign Affairs released a statement indicating that a flight manifest indicated "there was one Canadian citizen on board the flight." The department did not provide any additional details about the individual.

Consular officials are in contact with the family, Foreign Affairs said.

Friends and relatives seeking information on Canadians believed to be on Flight 409 are asked to call Foreign Affairs at 1-800-267-6788, or 1-613-996-8885.

The French Embassy reported that the wife of Denis Pietton, the French ambassador to Lebanon, was also on board the plane.

Ethiopian Airlines CEO Ato Girma Wake told reporters in Addis Ababa that he had no information about the fate of the people on board the plane, nor about the cause of the crash.

Wake said the plane had been serviced Dec. 25 and passed inspection.

He also said the plane had been leased in September from CIT Aerospace, a U.S.-company based in New York.

A CIT spokesperson declined to comment and referred questions to Ethiopian Airlines.

Wake also said the airline would be sending accident and crisis management experts to Beirut.

With files from The Associated Press