Air Algerie flight ‘crashes’ in Mali

An Air Algerie Airways plane prepares to land at Houari Boumediene Airport in AlgiersALGIERS. — Algerian aviation officials have confirmed that a plane operated by Air Algerie carrying 116 people from Burkina Faso to Algeria’s capital crashed over northern Mali yesterday. Flight AH5017 disappeared from radar over northern Mali after heavy rains were reported, according to the owner and government officials in France and Burkina Faso.
The flight, owned by the Spanish private company Swiftair, was carrying 110 passengers and six crew.

There were no additional details over casualties.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said Air Algerie Flight 5017 had “probably crashed,” adding that “no trace” of the plane had been found.
Two French fighter jets were among aircraft scouring the rugged north of Mali for the plane, which was travelling from Burkina Faso’s capital, Ouagadougou, to Algiers, the Algerian capital.

Air navigation services lost track of the MD-83 about 50 minutes after takeoff from Ougadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, at 1.55am GMT yesterday, the official Algerian news agency APS said.

The list of passengers includes 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, Burkina Faso Transport Minister Jean Bertin Ouedraogo said.

The six crew members are Spanish, according to the Spanish pilots’ union.
Transport Minister Jean Bertin Ouedraogo also said the plane sent its last message about 1.30am GMT, asking Niger air control to change its route because of heavy rains in the area.

Frederic Cuvillier, the French transport minister, said the plane vanished over northern Mali. The plane had been missing for hours before the news was made public. It was not immediately clear why airline or government officials didn’t make it public earlier. Air Algerie Flight 5017 was being operated by Spanish airline Swiftair, the company said in a statement. The Spanish pilots’ union said the plane belonged to Swiftair and it was operated by a Spanish crew.

Meanwhile, a French aviation watchdog said the plane was checked “two or three days ago” and was “in good condition.”
Patrick Gandil, head of the French civil aviation authority, said the plane “passed through France in Marseille two or three days ago. We examined it and we found almost nothing, it was really in good condition.”

The flight path of the plane from Ouagadougou to Algiers was not immediately clear. Ougadougou is in a nearly straight line south of Algiers, passing over Mali where unrest continues in the north.

Northern Mali fell under control of ethnic Tuareg separatists and then al-Qaeda-linked fighters following a military coup in 2012.
A French-led intervention last year scattered the al-Qaeda groups, but the Tuaregs have pushed back against the authority of the Bamako-based government.

A senior French official said it seems unlikely that fighters in Mali had the kind of weaponry that could shoot down a plane.
Swiftair said it has not been possible to make contact with the plane and was trying to ascertain what had happened. It said the crew included two pilots and four cabin staff. — Agencies.

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