• Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Missing Algerian plane's wreckage found: Report

116 on board feared dead

Afp, Ouagadougou

The wreckage of an Air Algerie plane missing since early yesterday with 116 people on board has been found in Mali near the Burkina Faso border, an army coordinator in Ouagadougou said.

"We have found the Algerian plane. The wreck has been located ... 50 kilometres north of the Burkina Faso border" in the Malian region of Gossi, said General Gilbert Diendiere of the Burkina Faso army.

A witness had earlier reported seeing the plane "falling" in the region of Gossi and the general said they were taking the reports seriously as they matched radar images of the flight path.

"That is where we will strengthen our search," he had added.

Flight AH5017, which originated in Ouagadougou and was bound for Algiers with 51 French nationals aboard, according to Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, went missing amid reports of heavy storms, company sources and officials said.

It had been presumed to have been lost even before Fench President Francois Hollande went on TV to announce: "Everything leads us to believe that the plane has crashed."

He said the plane's Spanish crew had signalled they were altering course "due to particularly difficult weather conditions".

Algerian Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal was earlier cited as saying by Algerian radio that the plane dropped off the radar at Gao, 500 kilometres from the Algerian border.

The airline said it also had 24 Burkinabe, eight Lebanese, six Algerians, six Spanish, five Canadians, four Germans and two Luxembourg nationals on board.

Mali, Algeria, Niger and France coordinated their search efforts under the umbrella of the French-led military intervention in Mali, Operation Serval.

Aviation sources told AFP the plane was leased from Spanish company Swiftair.

Its six-member crew were all Spanish, said Spain's airline pilots' union Sepla, and Swiftair confirmed the aircraft went missing less than an hour after takeoff.

The plane had apparently been given the "all clear" following an inspection in France only this week, the French civil aviation authority DGAC said.

In France, two crisis units had been set up, at the DGAC and at the foreign ministry, DGAC said, in addition to another two at Roissy-Charles-de-Gaulle airport in Paris and at Marseille airport.

DGAC said that many passengers had been due to catch onward connecting flights to Paris and Marseille

A controller in Mali, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said the area was rocked by "strong storms" overnight.

Air Algerie, in a statement carried by national news agency APS, said it had initiated an "emergency plan" in the search for AH5017, which flies the four-hour passenger route four times a week.

In Cuba, the daughter of President Raul Castro assured journalists she was alive and well, contradicting reports that she had been onboard the doomed flight.

Mariela Castro, a sexologist and gay rights activist, said she had been told there was another passenger of the same name aboard flight AH5017.

The crash comes less than six months after one of Algeria's worst air disasters.

In February, a C-130 military aircraft carrying 78 people crashed in poor weather in the mountainous northeast, killing more than 70 people.

Tamanrasset was the site of the country's worst-ever civilian air disaster, in March 2003.

In that accident, all but one of the 103 people on board were killed when an Air Algerie Boeing 737-200 crashed on takeoff after one of its engines caught fire.

The sole survivor, a young Algerian soldier, was critically injured.

 

Published: 12:01 am Friday, July 25, 2014

Last modified: 10:50 pm Friday, July 25, 2014

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