Air Algérie jet crashes in Mali
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The wreckage of an Air Algérie plane that disappeared early Thursday with 116 people on board en route from Burkina Faso to Algeria has been found in Mali, according to French officials.
The wreckage of the plane which went missing early Thursday was found in Mali's Gossi region, not far from the Burkina Faso border, the French president's office said Friday.
The jet was clearly identified even though it had "disintegrated".
France said on Friday that it had sent a military unit to secure the wreckage site of the Air Algérie flight.
According to Gen. Gilbert Diendere – a close aide to Burkina Faso President Blaise Compaore, who is heading a crisis committee set up to investigate the crash – the wreckage 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.
“We sent men with the agreement of the Mali government to the site and they found the wreckage of the plane with the help of the inhabitants of the area,” Gen. Diendere told reporters, adding that the wreckage was “totally burnt and scattered”.
He said that rescuers went to the area after they had heard from a resident that he saw the plane go down 80 kilometres (50 miles) southwest of the Malian town of Gossi.
French President François Hollande said in a statement that the wreckage of the plane had been clearly identified, despite being very damaged and dispersed.
“A French military unit has been sent to secure the site and gather the first elements of information,” the statement said.
French nationals among the victims
A total of 51 French citizens were among the 110 passengers and six crew aboard flight AH 5017, French Transport Minister Frédéric Cuvillier said.
The MD-83 vanished less than an hour after taking off from Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, on its way to Algiers, the Algerian capital.
There have been several conflicting reports as to the nationalities of the plane’s passengers.
According to Burkinabe Transport Minister Jean Bertin Ouedrago, there were 50 French citizens, 24 Burkina Faso nationals, six Lebanese, five Canadians, four Algerians, two Luxembourg nationals, one Swiss, one Nigerian, one Cameroonian and one Malian on flight AH 5017.
But an Air Algerie representative in Burkina Faso, Kara Terki, told a news conference that the passenger list also included one Belgian, one Ukrainian and one Romanian and that there had been eight, not six, Lebanese citizens on board. He said there were no Malians on the list.
The AFP news agency quoted officials as saying there were at least 20 Lebanese passengers on the plane.
A spokeswoman for SEPLA, Spain's pilots’ union, told Reuters that the aircraft’s six crew were all from Spain, but could not give further details.
Ouagadougou is in a nearly straight line south of Algiers, passing over Mali, where unrest continues in the north.
An Algerian official said the plane’s last contact with aviation authorities was at 01:55 GMT, when it was flying over the northern Malian city of Gao.
Gao is the stronghold of the Tuareg separatist group the MNLA.
In January 2013, France launched a military operation in northern Mali called Operation Serval after the region fell to a mix of Tuareg separatists and jihadist groups.
France has since broadened its military operation across the Sahel. Operation Barkhane (the name of a crescent-shaped sand dune) has around 3,000 French troops operating out of Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad and its regional scope cuts across some of the world’s most remote, dangerous borders across the rugged, lawless scrubland on the fringes of the Sahara.
Algeria has been hosting peace talks between the Malian government and armed groups from northern Mali.
News of the missing Algerian plane came exactly a week after Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 was shot down over eastern Ukraine.
Burkinabe official says pilot asked for route change
Speaking to reporters in the capital Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso Transport Minister Ouedrago said the pilot of flight AH 5017 asked for a change of route at 1:38am GMT due to a storm.
Air Algerie Flight 5017 was being operated by Spanish airline Swiftair. In a statement posted on its website, the company said the aircraft took off from Ouagadougou at 1:17am local time and was supposed to land in the Algerian capital of Algiers at 5:10am, but never reached its destination.
The national Algerian carrier flies the four-hour passenger route from Ouagadougou to Algiers four times a week.
Earlier reports said the plane was a McDonnell Douglas DC-9, an airliner that went out of production in 1982, though aviation sources later told AFP the aircraft was an MD-83 – an updated version of the DC-9 that first went into service in 1985.
Swiftair’s website lists no DC-9s in its fleet, but does list an MD-83.
Air Algérie has launched an emergency plan in keeping with aviation procedures, Algerian state media APS reported.
Algerian officials held a crisis meeting that included French embassy officials at the airport on Thursday, said Leila Beratto, a correspondent for FRANCE 24’s sister station RFI, reporting from Algiers.
(FRANCE 24 with AP, REUTERS)