* Air Algerie jet went missing en route to Algiers
* Jet asked to change course due to storm
* Passenger list includes 51 French citizens
(Recasts; adds details on discovery of crash site)
By Hamid Ould Ahmed and Tiemoko Diallo
ALGIERS/BAMAKO, July 24 Authorities said on
Thursday they located the wreckage of an Air Algerie flight
after it crashed in northern Mali carrying 116 passengers and
crew, nearly half of them French, en route from Burkina Faso to
Regional aviation officials said they had lost contact with
flight AH5017 at around 0155 GMT on Thursday, less than an hour
after takeoff, following a request by the pilot to change course
due to bad weather.
Two French Mirage fighter jets and United Nations
helicopters on Thursday had for hours hunted for the wreck of
the McDonnell Douglas MD-83 plane in remote northern Mali, a
region prey to scattered Islamist militants and Tuareg
Malian state television said the wreckage of the flight was
discovered between the town of Gossi and the Burkina Faso
border. It said President Ibrahima Boubacar Keita would visit
the site of the crash on Friday.
General Gilbert Diendere, a member of the crisis unit in
Burkina Faso, said his team of investigators had already
inspected the wreckage near the village of Boulikessi, 50 km (31
miles) from the frontier.
"This team has confirmed that it has seen the remains of the
plane, totally burned out and scattered on the ground," Diendere
told local television, adding the remains of dead bodies had
also been discovered.
"Sadly, the team saw no one on site. It saw no survivors."
Communications Minister Alain Edouard Traore said the
accident was the worst in Burkina Faso's aviation history.
President Blaise Compaore declared two days of national
mourning, starting on Friday.
Burkina Faso authorities said the passenger list included 51
French, 27 Burkinabe, eight Lebanese, six Algerians, five
Canadians, four Germans, two from Luxembourg, one Cameroonian,
one Belgian, one Egyptian, one Ukranian, one Swiss, one Nigerian
and one Malian.
The Lebanese Foreign Ministry said its embassy in Abidjan
estimated the number of Lebanese citizens on the flight was at
least 20, some of whom 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-law Randa was travelling on the plane with her three
children, and returning to Beirut to celebrate the Muslim
religious festival of Eid El-Fitr with her family.
HERDERS "SAW THE PLANE FALL"
Another plane crash is likely to add to nerves over flying a
week after a Malaysia Airlines plane was downed over Ukraine,
and a TransAsia Airways plane crashed off Taiwan during a
thunderstorm on Wednesday. International airlines also
temporarily cancelled flights into Tel Aviv this week, citing
security concerns amid the instability in Gaza.
Swiftair, the private Spanish company that owns the plane,
confirmed the MD-83 operated by Air Algerie was carrying 110
passengers and six crew. It said it took off from Burkina Faso
at 0117 GMT and was due to land at 0510 GMT, but never reached
A spokeswoman for SEPLA, Spain's pilots union, said the six
crew were from Spain.
A local official in Gossi said the crash had been witnessed
by a group of herders near the village of Hamni-Ganda, and word
was passed to authorities in Burkina Faso.
"The herders were in the bush and saw the plane fall," Louis
Berthaud, a community counsellor in Gossi, told Reuters by
telephone. "It must have been a storm and it was struck by
lightning. They said it was on fire as it fell, before it
Asked if he suspected a terrorist attack, French Foreign
Minister Laurent Fabius said authorities believed the cause of
the crash may have been bad weather, but no hypothesis had been
French President Francois Hollande had earlier 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.
"We cannot identify the causes of what happened," Hollande
Much of northern Mali 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. A French-led international operation in early
2013 broke the Islamists control over northern Mali.
RELATIVELY CLEAN RECORD
The MD-83 is part of the McDonnell Douglas MD-80 family of
twin-engine 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, 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, Joe Bavier, Julien Toyer,
Tracy Rucinski, Laila Bassam, Marine Pennetier, John Irish and
Tim Hepher; Writing by Patrick Markey and Daniel Flynn; Editing
by Alison Williams and Sonya Hepinstall)