(AP) — An Algerian aviation official has confirmed the Air Algerie flight AH5017, which disappeared off radar over Mali in West Africa while carrying a total of 116 people on board, has crashed.
At least 50 French nationals are thought to be among the passengers travelling on AH5017, which lost contact with aviation officials about 50 minutes after take-off from Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso in west Africa. It was bound for Algiers in Algeria.
The French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius has said the plane “probably crashed”, but “despite intensive search efforts no trace of the aircraft has yet been found”.
Two French fighter jets based in Africa have been deployed and are attempting to locate the missing plane. The French civil aviation body has confirmed investigations into the missing plane are being led from Paris and Marseille.
The official Algerian news agency APS has published a list of passengers on board the plane, including 51 French, 27 Burkina Faso nationals, eight Lebanese, six Algerians, five Canadians, four Germans, two Luxemburg nationals, one Swiss, one Belgian, one Egyptian, one Ukrainian, one Nigerian, one Cameroonian and one Malian.
However, AFP has reported that at least 20 passengers are Lebanese.
It is not yet known how many casualties there are. Officials have not issued any further details.
The last contact Algerian authorities had with the aircraft was at 01.55am GMT when it was flying over Gao in Mali, an Algerian official said. A diplomat in the Malian capital of Bamako said that the north of the country was struck by a powerful sandstorm overnight.
The Burkina Faso Transport Minister Jean Bertin Ouedrago said the pilot had contacted Niger’s control tower and asked to change route at 01.38am because of a storm in the area.
The plane is operated by Air Algerie and chartered from Spanish airline Swiftair, who said 110 passengers and six members of crew are on board the MD83 aircraft. It can carry up to 167 people.
The company said in a statement that the passenger jet took off from Burkina Faso at 01.17am and was supposed to land in Algiers at 05.10am, but never reached its destination.
It said the six crew members include two pilots and four flight attendants.
The AFP news agency quoted an unnamed Air Algerie company source as saying that the plane was close to the Algerian frontier when it was asked to make a detour because of poor visibility and to prevent a possible collision with another plane on the Algiers-Bamako route.
Contact was lost after this change of course, according to the source.
Flight AH 5017 flies the Ouagadougou-Algiers route four times per week
Mali has been the site of unrest in recent years after it fell under control of ethnic Tuareg separatists and then al Qaida-linked Islamic extremists following a military coup in 2012.
However, a senior French official said it is unlikely that fighters in Mali had the kind of weaponry that could shoot down a plane.
News Source: AP