* President Hollande says no survivors in crash
* One black box flight recorder has been retrieved
* French soldiers secure crash site, recover bodies
* Graphic of site: link.reuters.com/wyf52w
(Adds details on president's crash site visit, air safety body)
By Chine Labbé and Tiemoko Diallo
PARIS/BAMAKO, July 25 Poor weather was the most
likely cause of the crash of an Air Algerie flight in the West
African country 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
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.
Burkina Faso President Blaise Compaore visited the remote
site on Friday to express his condolences. Photos on his
official Facebook page showed him walking solemnly past scraps
of clothing and gnarled sheets of metal.
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
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 analysed.
"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 metres by 300 metres and was an
arduous six-hour drive from Gossi, making it difficult for
forensic teams to reach it.
International police agency Interpol said it was deploying a
team to help identify the victims, who came from 15 different
Remains recovered at the site would first be taken to Gao
before being repatriated "as quickly as possible", Fabius said.
According to regional air safety body ASECNA, the area was
"the scene of storm systems potentially dangerous for a plane".
It also said that it had forecast the bad weather and that the
information was available to all aircraft in the affected area.
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.
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."
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
Transport Minister Frederic Cuvillier said the strong smell
of aircraft fuel and the small radius of the crash site
suggested the cause of the crash was linked to weather, a
technical problem or an accumulation 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,
Luxembourgers, 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, Emma Farge
in Dakar and Paul Day in Madrid; Writing by John Irish and
Daniel Flynn; Editing by Alison Williams and G Crosse)