Wreckage of Air Algerie flight found in Mali

Aircraft carrying 110 passengers asked to be diverted because of weather

The Swiftair MD-83 airplane, which crashed yesterday, is seen taking off from Hamburg airport in June.

The Swiftair MD-83 airplane, which crashed yesterday, is seen taking off from Hamburg airport in June.


An Algerian aircraft carrying 110 passengers and six crew disappeared and was believed to have crashed over northern Africa yesterday, the third significant international air disaster in a week.

Flight AH5017 operated by Air Algerie vanished from radar screens about 50 minutes after taking off from Burkina Faso en route for Algiers. It had reportedly asked to divert from its planned course because of heavy rain and poor visibility over northern Mali.

There were reports of massive sandstorms in the region. The plane disappeared shortly after changing course but is not thought to have transmitted any distress signal.

Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, the president of Mali, said last night that the wreckage had been spotted between Aguelhoc and Kidal but did not give details.

Officials in Burkina Faso, Algeria and France said no hypotheses were being ruled out, including a terrorist bombing or hijack, but seriously doubted that the Islamist forces and militias in northern Mali possessed surface-to-air missiles powerful enough to shoot down the plane.

Almost half the passengers on board, 51 people, were reported to be French.

The three air tragedies in the past week have claimed nearly 450 lives. Seven days ago, Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 was shot down over eastern Ukraine killing all 298 people - including 193 Dutch citizens as well as dozens of Malaysians, Australians, Indonesians and other nationalities

TransAsia crash

On Wednesday a TransAsia Airways flight in Taiwan crashed in bad weather killing 48 passengers, including two French exchange students.

Two French Mirage-2000 planes were searching the area where the Algeria-bound aircraft is thought to have crashed, the largely inaccessible region of Gao in north Mali.

The French president, Francois Hollande, summoned key ministers to a crisis meeting at the Elysee Palace yesterday afternoon, postponing a planned visit to France’s Indian Ocean territories. He said “all military and civilian means” in the region of the crash would be mobilised to establish the cause of the tragedy.

France has 1,600 troops in Mali as part of Operation Serval, which started at the beginning of last year and is aimed at ousting Islamist militants in the north of the country. “Everything we know leads us to believe this aircraft has crashed in Mali,” Hollande said. “The search will go on for as long as necessary and everything will be done to find this aircraft.

“My thoughts are with the anguished families and friends waiting at airports and express our solidarity, the solidarity of the nation. It is a moment of pain for the families and friends of 118 people, 51 of whom are our compatriots.

“We are in a series [of crashes] but there is no series because every situation is different . . . we have to establish what happened.”

Laurent Fabius, the French foreign minister, said: “Despite intensive searches no trace of the plane has been found. The aircraft has probably crashed.

“The search is concentrated on a vast part of Malian territory around Gao. Our forces in the region, including medical units, have been mobilised.”

‘Major tragedy’

He said that if the crash were confirmed it would be “a major tragedy that has hit our whole nation and others”.

The plane, a McDonnell Douglas 83, had taken off from the Burkina Faso capital of Ouagadougou and was supposed to take a direct route to Algiers.

Air traffic controllers lost contact with the aircraft, owned by the Spanish company Swiftair, at 1.17am GMT, but its disappearance was not made public until several hours after its 4.10am GMT scheduled arrival time in the Algerian capital. – (Guardian service)