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Wreckage of Algeria plane found in Mali

© Screengrab

Text by Leela JACINTO

Latest update : 2014-07-25

The wreckage of an Air Algérie plane that disappeared early Thursday with 118 people on board on a flight from Burkina Faso to Algeria has been found in Mali, according to French officials.

French President François Hollande’s office said Friday the jet was clearly identified even though it had "disintegrated".

France has sent a military unit to “secure the site and gather evidence,” said the French presidential statement.

Air Algérie Flight AH5017 from Ouagadougou to Algiers disappeared with 110 passengers and six crew members after taking off from the Burkina Faso capital early Thursday. The flight had 54 French nationals on board and France has been aiding the search effort.

The wreckage of the McDonell Douglas 83 (MD-83) was found about 50 kilometres (31 miles) from the border of Burkina Faso near the village of Boulikessi in Mali, south of the Malian city of Gao, near the town of Gossi, according to a senior Burkinabe official.

Bad weather has emerged as one of the most likely causes of the crash although French officials say other explanations cannot be discounted at this stage.

“We think the plane went down due to weather conditions, but no hypothesis can be excluded as long as we don't have the results of an investigation,'' French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve told a French radio station Friday.

“Terrorist groups are in the zone ... We know these groups are hostile to Western interests,'' Cazeneuve added.

Reporting from the Malian capital of Bamako, Alex Duval Smith said there have been rain showers and thunderstorms in the area. “It’s raining heavily here in Bamako, which is about 600 kilometres from Gossi. The same weather is hitting that area, it’s probably going to slow access,” she said.

Pilot asked for new course due to bad weather

The plane, owned by Spanish company Swiftair and leased by Algeria's flagship carrier, disappeared from radar about 50 minutes after takeoff, said Air Algérie.

The pilot had contacted Niger's control tower in Niamey at around 01:30 GMT to change course because of bad weather, according to BurkinabeTransport Minister Jean Bertin Ouedrago.

“The kind of storms you get in this area are thunderstorms accompanied by rains but also very strong winds which tend to carry heavy loads of sand, which makes visibility very poor,” said Duval Smith.

“I have heard the storm over the area 24 hours ago [around the time of the crash] was not particularly harsh and of course there are always lingering fears that there may have been foul play. Rebel groups that operate in that area do have rocket power, but we are still looking at the weather as a possible cause of the crash,” Duval added.

The northern Mali region in 2012 fell to a mix of Tuareg separatist and jihadist groups, which were dislodged by a French military operation launched in January 2013. France has since broadened its military operation across the Sahel with around 3,000 French troops operating out of Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad.

‘It’s crucial that the United Nations operation in Mali supports the efforts of the French and Malian authorities’

A team of about 100 French troops left the West African nation of Niger, where French troops operating in the region are headquartered, early Friday, according to a Niger government spokesman. The UN peacekeeping mission in Mali, known as MINUSMA, as well as local teams, are co-operating in the search effort.

Families wait for news

The passengers on board the four-hour flight included 54 French nationals, 27 Burkinabe citizens, eight Lebanese, six Algerians, two from Luxembourg, five Canadians, four Germans, one Cameroonian, one Belgian, one Egyptian, one Ukrainian, one Swiss, one Nigerian and one Malian, according to Burkinabe authorities.

The six crew members were Spanish nationals, according to the Spanish pilots’ union.
Hollande cancelled a scheduled visit to two overseas French territories to lead an emergency crisis meeting Friday morning.

Reporting from the Elysée presidential palace Friday morning, FRANCE 24’s Marc Perelman noted, “...it’s important for the French to assess what caused the plane to crash.”

Burkina Faso has declared a 48-hour period of national mourning. France has set up crisis centres in Paris and the southern French city of Marseilles.

Date created : 2014-07-25

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