By Chine Labbé and Tiemoko Diallo
PARIS/BAMAKO, July 25 (Reuters) - Poor weather was the most likely cause of the crash of an Air Algerie flight in the West African state of Mali that killed all 118 people on board, French officials said on Friday.
Investigators at the scene of the crash in northern Mali concluded the McDonnell Douglas MD-83 aircraft broke apart when it smashed into the ground early on Thursday morning, the officials said, suggesting this meant it was unlikely to have been the victim of an attack.
"French soldiers who are on the ground have started the first investigations," French President Francois Hollande told reporters. "Sadly, there are no survivors."
The death toll, initially announced as 116, was revised up to 118 after a final passenger manifest was issued. An earlier count of 51 French nationals among the dead was also raised to 54 by the French Foreign Ministry to include those with dual nationality.
French, Malian and Dutch soldiers from a U.N. peacekeeping force (MINUSMA) secured the crash site, which lies about 80 km (50 miles) south of the northern Malian town of Gossi near the Burkina Faso border.
France sent troops to Mali last year to halt an al Qaeda-backed insurgency and has about 1,600 soldiers based in Mali, mostly in the northern city of Gao. French officials said there were no signs of insurgent activity in the area of the crash.
Malian authorities said they were opening an international inquiry into flight AH5017, which crashed less than an hour after it left the Burkinabe capital Ouagadougou en route for Algiers. Aviation authorities lost contact with the flight at around 0155 GMT on Thursday, shortly after the pilot requested to change course due to a storm.
Hollande said one of the black box flight recorders had been recovered and would be analyzed.
"The plane's debris is concentrated in a small area but it is too early to draw conclusions," he said. "There are theories, especially the weather, but I'm not excluding any theory."
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said the crash site covered an area of about 300 meters by 300 meters and was an arduous six-hour drive from Gossi, making it difficult for forensic teams to reach it.
Fabius said bodies would first be taken to Gao before being repatriated "as quickly as possible".
Alidou Ouedraogo, whose daughter was among the 27 citizens of Burkina Faso killed in the crash, said: "They have to do everything to reassemble the bodies and bring them home so that we can mourn properly."
International police agency Interpol said it was deploying a team to help identify the victims, who came from 15 different countries.
Another plane crash is likely to add to nerves over flying a week after a Malaysia Airlines plane was downed over Ukraine, and after a TransAsia Airways plane crashed off Taiwan during a thunderstorm on Wednesday.
Television footage issued by Burkinabe officials showed hundreds of small pieces of debris scattered across flat scrubland among pools of muddy water, suggesting a heavy storm.
"We're not even sure that we can piece together the bodies they have been so badly destroyed," Burkina Faso Prime Minister Luc Adolphe Tiao told a news conference in Ouagadougou.
A local official in the town of Gossi told Reuters on Thursday that local herders, who said they saw the plane crash, told him it was in flames before it hit the ground.
French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said the plane was destroyed only on impact and said poor weather was the likeliest cause.
Transport Minister Frederic Cuvillier said the strong smell of aircraft fuel at the crash site and that small radius of the crash site suggested the cause of the crash was linked to weather, a technical problem or a cumulation of both.
"We exclude - and have done so from the start - any ground strike," Cuvillier told France 2 television.
Burkina Faso authorities said the passenger list also included Burkinabes, Lebanese, Algerians, Canadians, Germans, Luxembourgians, a Cameroonian, a Belgian, an Egyptian, a Ukrainian, a Swiss, a Nigerian and a Malian. Plane owner Swiftair said the six crew were Spanish. (Additional reporting by Mark John and John Irish in Paris, Joe Bavier in Abidjan, Mathieu Bonkoungou in Ouagadougou and Paul Day in Madrid; Writing by John Irish and Daniel Flynn; Editing by Alison Williams)
The Associated Press released footage of the crash site of an Air Algerie plane.
Frédéric Cuvillier, the French junior minister for transport, said France is ruling out a ground strike as the cause of the crash of the Air Algérie flight over Mali.
French President François Hollande also spoke to the press Friday, updating the number of casualties to 118, more than had been originally reported.
France's president Francois Hollande says there are no survivors after Air Algerie flight crashed in Mali with 116 people on board
— Sky News Newsdesk (@SkyNewsBreak) July 25, 2014
A French military unit has been dispatched to secure the crash site of the Air Algerie jet that crashed in northern Mali on July 24, The Associated Press reported.
The troops aim to secure the evidence and human remains found about 30 miles from the border of Burkina Faso before extremists take over the area.
"Terrorist groups are in the zone ... We know these groups are hostile to Western interests," French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve told RTL radio.
FMI: Click here.
French investigators believe bad weather may have played a role in the crash of Air Algerie Flight AH5017 on July 24, ITV reported.
"We think the aircraft crashed for reasons linked to the weather conditions, although no theory can be excluded at this point," French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve told RTL radio.
For more, click here.
The French government claimed that the wreckage of the Air Algerie plane that went missing was spotted in Mali's Gossi region, echoing similar reports made.
— FRANCE 24 (@FRANCE24) July 25, 2014
-- Andrew Hart
Reuters reports that Malian State TV has said that the wreckage of the Air Algerie flight was found close to Gossi in Mali.
OUAGADOUGO, Burkina Faso (AP) — A Burkina Faso official says the wreckage of the Air Algerie plane that went missing has been found in Mali.
Gen. Gilbert Diendere says the wreckage was located about 50 kilometers (31 miles) from the border of Burkina Faso near the village of Boulikessi in Mali.
Diendere is a close aide to President Blaise Compaore and head of the crisis committee set up to coordinate research for the plane that vanished Thursday in a rainstorm over northern Mali.
He says searchers found human remains and burned and scattered plane wreckage.
BREAKING: Burkina Faso official says wreckage, remains from missing Air Algerie flight found in Mali.
— The Associated Press (@AP) July 24, 2014
Swiftair, the company that owns the plane that went missing over Ukraine, says the wreckage has not been located yet.
Swiftair: Air Algerie plane not located; earlier, Burkina Faso airport official said wreckage found in Mali; more: http://t.co/r1QNTC8bJJ
— Breaking News (@BreakingNews) July 24, 2014
Conflicting reports emerged about wreckage spotted in two different sites, several hundred kilometers (miles) away from each other in the sparse, vast region where the Sahara Desert meets the rest of Africa.
Malian Communiciations Minister Mahamadou Camara told The Associated Press on Thursday night that the plane hadn't yet been found and "the search is underway." French military and diplomatic officials also said no wreckage had been found.
Burkina Faso's army told Agence France Presse that it had located the missing Air Algerie plane in Mali, near the border.
"We have found the Algerian plane. The wreck has been located ... 50 kilometres (30 miles) north of the Burkina Faso border" General Gilbert Diendiere from the Burkina Faso army told the news service.
Diendiere's claims have not yet been verified
Agence France Press says Burkina Faso's army has announced the wreck of the missing Algeria Airlines flight was found in Mali.
There have been conflicting reports throughout the day about the location of the wreckage. Burkina Faso's airport announced earlier on Thursday French troops had spotted the plane in a remote area. France later denied those claims.
#BREAKING: Air Algerie wreck found in Mali: Burkina Faso army
— Agence France-Presse (@AFP) July 24, 2014
Reuters reports that Mali's president is stating wreckage of Air Algerie Flight AH5017 has been spotted in the country's north. There have been conflicting reports throughout the day as to the location of the plane.
#BREAKING: Mali's president says wreckage of Air Algerie flight has been spotted between northern towns of Aguelhoc and Kidal
— Reuters Top News (@Reuters) July 24, 2014
Throughout the day, conflicting reports emerged over what had happened to Algeria Airlines flight 5017 on Thursday, and whether the wreckage of the plane had been found. Here's a recap of the contradicting reports today:
- Reuters and CBC reported early on that an Algerian aviation official had confirmed the airplane had crashed. "I can confirm that it has crashed," the official told Reuters, but declined to give more details.
- Speaking to NBC News, an airport official in Burkina Faso also said the plane had crashed and added that the wreckage had been found.
- The airport of Ouagadougou claimed later on its website it had confirmation the airplane had crashed and that French forces had located the wreckage in a remote area in northern Mali.
- French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told reporters in Paris that the plane "probably" crashed, but that the wreckage had not been found. "Despite intensive search efforts no trace of the aircraft has yet been found," French Foreign Minster Laurent Fabius told journalists in Paris, Reuters reports. "The plane probably crashed," he added.
France's foreign ministry said on Thursday that an Air Algerie plane that went missing over northern Mali has probably crashed. French military jets are searching the area for the wreckage.
"Despite intensive search efforts no trace of the aircraft has yet been found," French Foreign Minster Laurent Fabius told journalists in Paris, Reuters reports. "The plane probably crashed," he added.
An airport official in Burkina Fasa NBC news earlier that the airplane had crashed after altering its route because of a storm.
The flight with 116 passengers aboard was on its way from Burkina Faso to the Algerian capital when it disappeared from the radar.
According to TeleSur TV, Mariela Castro reacted on Thursday to (false) rumors she was aboard the crashed Air Algerie plane. "Maybe the media that published the news needed some publicity, but here I am," Castro reportedly said.
— teleSUR TV (@teleSURtv) July 24, 2014
There is growing confusion whether Mariela Castro, the daughter of Cuban leader Raul Castro, was aboard the Air Algerie plane. NBC's reporter in Havana, Mary Murray, reportedly personally saw the woman this morning.
NBC's Mary Murray in Havana reports she has personally seen Raul Castro's daughter Mariela this morning. She is NOT on #AirAlgerie
— Tom Costello (@tomcostellonbc) July 24, 2014
— Breaking News (@BreakingNews) July 24, 2014
The plane would have crashed in the Tilemsi region, 70 kms from Gao.
FLASH INFOS : AH5017 L'avion se serait crashé à Tilemsi. L'avion se serait crashé dans la région de Tilemsi, à 70km de Gao.
— Air Algérie (@Air_Algerie) July 24, 2014
Ouagadougou airport says Mariela Castro, the niece of Cuban leader Fidel Castro, was aboard the missing plane.
Among the passengers of flight AH5017, there were 2 European officials with French nationality who were stationed in Ouagadougo and Mariela Castro, the niece of Fidel Castro, former head of state of Cuba.
Ouagadougou airport released a map it says shows the probably crash site of the missing Algerian plane.
The airport in Ouagadougou where the plane departed from posted a statement with the passengers' nationalities on its Facebook page. (Translated from French below)
The aircraft was in the vicinity of Kidal (Mali) where French troops with air support stationed in the city (occupied a few months ago by rebels), have already begun reconnaissance flights.
The nationalities reported by the passengers is as follows (close to a third, however, hold dual nationality)
20 Lebanese passengers
28 Burkinabe passengers
51 French passengers
5 Canadian passengers
4 German passengers
1 Luxembourgeois passenger
1 Swiss passenger
6 Spanish crew members
Officials tell CBS News Air Algerie plane has crashed.
JUST IN: Algerian official tells CBS News Flight AH5017 from Burkina Faso to Algiers crashed with 116 people onboard http://t.co/cWk0K49gxG
— CBS News (@CBSNews) July 24, 2014
Map showing the planned route of missing Air Algerie Flight AH 5017 pic.twitter.com/36CS9QgLdr
— Agence France-Presse (@AFP) July 24, 2014
Reuters reports that an Algerian aviation official has said the missing plane has crashed.
— Reuters Africa (@ReutersAfrica) July 24, 2014
PARIS, July 24 (Reuters) - Two French fighter jets based in West Africa have been deployed to try and locate a missing Air Algerie flight, a French army spokesman said on Thursday.
"Two Mirage 2000 jets based in Africa were dispatched to try to locate the Air Algerie plane that disappeared on Thursday," French army spokesman Gilles Jaron said. "They will search an area from its last known destination along its probable route."
BREAKING: Air Algerie plane believed to have crashed between Gao and Tessalit in Mali, BBC reports quoting UN troops
— Michael van Poppel (@mpoppel) July 24, 2014
Algerian Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal said that the plane disappeared around 3a.m Thursday. The last contact with the plane took place 10 minutes before its disappearance in the Gao region.
"There were 119 passengers on board the plane, including the Spanish crew. Searches are in progress with the relevant authorities. The victims are of multiple nationalities," he said without giving more detail. A representative of Air Algerie, Zohir Houari, confirmed that the disappearance took place above Gao, an area where militant group The Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MOJWA) remains active.