An Air Algerie flight with 110 passengers onboard, nearly half of them French citizens, crashed on Thursday after the jet disappeared over northern Mali en route from Burkina Faso to Algiers, an Algerian official said.
There were few clear indications of what might have happened to flight AH5017, or whether there were casualties, but Burkina Faso’s transport minister said the crew asked to adjust their route at 0138 GMT because of a storm in the area.
“I can confirm it has crashed,” the Algerian official told Reuters, declining to be identified or give any details about what happened to the aircraft on its way north.
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French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said the Air Algerie flight was still missing, but had probably crashed. “Despite intensive search efforts, no trace of the aircraft has yet been found,” Fabius told journalists in Paris. “The plane probably crashed.”
French President Francois Hollande cancelled a planned visit to overseas territories and said all military means on the ground would be used to locate the aircraft.
Two French Mirage warplanes have been scouring the vast desert area around the northern Malian city of Gao for the aircraft, which had 51 French nationals on board. “The search will take as long as needed,” Hollande told reporters. “Everything must be done to find this plane,” he said.
An aid worker in Mali said his organisation had received several calls from residents based in the villages of Tessalit and Tinzawaten in the northeastern region of Kidal after hearing a loud explosion.
It was not immediately clear if this was linked to the crash.
But searching in northern Mali will be complex task. The area where the flight is suspected to have crashed is a vast, sparsely inhabited region of scrubland and desert dunes stretching to the foothills of the Adrar des Ifoghas mountains.
Algeria’s state news agency APS said authorities lost contact with flight an hour after it took off from Burkina Faso, but other officials gave differing accounts of the times of contact, adding to confusion about the plane’s fate.
Swiftair, the private Spanish company that owns the plane, confirmed it had lost contact with the MD-83 operated by Air Algerie, which it said was carrying 110 passengers and six crew. It said it took off from Burkina Faso at 0117 GMT and was due to land at 0510 GMT but never reached. Burkina Faso officials said the flight asked control centre in Niamey, Niger, to change route at 0138 GMT because of a storm in the Sahara.
An Air Algerie representative in Burkina Faso said all the passengers on the plane were in transit, either for Europe, the Middle East or Canada. Burkina Faso authorities said the passenger list comprised 27 Burkinabe, 51 French, eight Lebanese, six Algerians, two from Luxembourg, five Canadians, four Germans, one Cameroonian, one Belgian, one Egyptian, one Ukranian, one Swiss, one Nigerian and one Malian.
A spokeswoman for SEPLA, Spain’s pilots union, said the six crew were from Spain.