* Air Algerie jet went missing en route to Algiers
* Burkina Faso says jet asked to change course due to storm
* Passenger list includes 51 French citizens
(Adds Mali president, Burkina Faso general, Lebanese family)
By Hamid Ould Ahmed
ALGIERS, July 24 French warplanes and U.N.
helicopters scoured the north of Mali on Thursday for the
wreckage of an Air Algerie flight after it crashed carrying 110
passengers, nearly half of them French, from Burkina Faso to
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said authorities
believed flight AH5017 may have encountered bad weather after
the pilot requested to change direction shortly after takeoff
due to a storm. However, he said no hypothesis had been
Officials in Mali and Burkina Faso gave conflicting accounts
of locating the crash.
Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita said wreckage of the
flight had been spotted in his country's far north, toward the
Algerian border between the towns of Aguelhoc and Kidal.
However, General Gilbert Diendere, a member of the crisis
unit in Burkina Faso, said his team had found remains in
southern Mali, 50 km (30 miles) from the Burkinabe border. Local
authorities in the nearby town of Gossi also told Reuters the
wreckage had been located here.
In Paris, Fabius said the flight, carrying 51 French
nationals, had probably crashed but he said two French Mirage
warplanes searching the vast desert area around the northern
Malian city of Gao had spotted no wreckage.
"Despite intensive search efforts, no trace of the aircraft
has yet been found," Fabius told journalists.
An Algerian official, who asked not to be identified,
confirmed the flight had crashed but provided no other details.
French President Francois Hollande cancelled a planned visit
to overseas territories and said France -- which has some 1,700
troops stationed in Mali -- would use all military means on the
ground to locate the aircraft.
"The search will take as long as needed," Hollande told
reporters. "Everything must be done to find this plane. We
cannot identify the causes of what happened."
The searchers mission is complicated by the vast scale and
daunting terrain of Mali. The area where the flight is suspected
to have crashed is a sparsely inhabited region of scrubland and
desert dunes stretching to the foothills of the Adrar des
Much of it lies in the hands of Tuareg separatist rebels,
who rose up against the government in early 2012, triggering an
Islamist revolt that briefly seized control of northern Mali.
The Malian government has only a weak presence in the region
and relies on French and U.N. peacekeepers for aircraft and
Another plane crash is likely to add to nerves over flying
after a Malaysia Airlines plane was downed over Ukraine last
week, a TransAsia Airways crashed off Taiwan during a
thunderstorm on Wednesday and airlines temporarily cancelled
flights into Tel Aviv due to the conflict in Gaza.
Algeria's state news agency APS said authorities lost
contact with flight AH5017 an hour after it took off from
Burkina Faso, but other officials gave differing accounts of the
times of contact.
Swiftair, the private Spanish company that owns the plane,
confirmed it had lost contact with the MD-83 operated by Air
Algerie, which it said was carrying 110 passengers and six crew.
A spokeswoman for SEPLA, Spain's pilots union, said the six
crew were from Spain. She could not give any further details.
It said it took off from Burkina Faso at 0117 GMT and was
due to land at 0510 GMT but never reached its destination.
An Algerian aviation official said the last contact Algerian
authorities had with the missing Air Algerie aircraft was at
0155 GMT when it was flying over Gao, Mali.
Burkina Faso officials said the flight asked the control
centre in Niamey, Niger, to change route at 0138 GMT because of
a storm in the Sahara.
Burkina Faso authorities said the passenger list comprised
27 Burkinabe, 51 French, eight Lebanese, six Algerians, two from
Luxembourg, five Canadians, four Germans, one Cameroonian, one
Belgian, one Egyptian, one Ukranian, one Swiss, one Nigerian and
The Lebanese Foreign Ministry said its embassy in Abidjan
estimated the number of Lebanese citizens on the flight was at
least 20. Some of these may have dual nationality.
"We don't know anything yet. We have just heard from the
news that the plane went missing," said Amina Daher, whose
sister-in-line Randa was travelling on the plane with her three
children, returning to Beirut to celebrate the Muslim religious
festival of Eid El-Fitr with her family.
RELATIVELY CLEAN RECORD
The MD-83 is part of the McDonnell Douglas MD-80 family of
twin-engined jets that entered service in 1980. A total of 265
of the MD-83 model were delivered before McDonnell Douglas, by
then part of Boeing, halted production in 1999.
"Boeing is aware of the report. We are awaiting additional
information," a spokesman for the U.S. planemaker said.
According to the Ascend Fleets database held by
British-based Flightglobal, there are 187 MD-83s still in
operation, of which 80 percent are being flown in the United
The aircraft's two engines are made by Pratt & Whitney, a
unit of United Technologies.
Swiftair has a relatively clean safety record, with five
accidents since 1977, two of which caused a total of eight
deaths, according to the Washington-based Flight Safety
Air Algerie's last major accident was in 2003 when one of
its planes crashed shortly after take-off from the southern city
of Tamanrasset, killing 102 people. In February this year, 77
people died when an Algerian military transport plane crashed
into a mountain in eastern Algeria.
(Additional reporting by Patrick Markey, Daniel Flynn, David
Lewis, Mathieu Bonkoungou, Emma Farge, Julien Toyer, Tracy
Rucinski, Laila Bassam, Marine Pennetier, John Irish and Tim
Hepher; Writing by Patrick Markey; Editing by Alison Williams
and Sonya Hepinstall)