As it happened: Missing Air Algerie Flight AH5017

Key Points

  • An Air Algerie airliner is believed to have crashed in the Sahara, en route from Burkina Faso to Algiers
  • Flight AH5017 had 110 passengers on board, including 51 French citizens, as well as six Spanish crew members
  • Unconfirmed French media reports suggest the plane crashed in either central or northern Mali
  • The plane was chartered from Spain's Swiftair
  • Heavy storms were reported at the time of the crash
  • All times BST (GMT +1)

Join the discussion

Comment here

The BBC may edit your comments and not all emails will be published.
Your comments may be published on any BBC media worldwide.

Terms and conditions


    Good afternoon and welcome to our live coverage of events after Algeria's national airline, Air Algerie, lost contact with one of its planes flying from Burkina Faso to Algiers across the Sahara.


    The flight had 110 passengers and six crew on board. You can read more about the background to the flight in our news story.

    12:24: Alex Duval Smith, BBC News, Mali

    Contact is believed to have been lost between Gao and Tessalit in north-eastern Mali. The most probable scenario at the moment is that the plane came down in bad weather. Sandstorms in the desert would account for very poor visibility. However, it is possible that it was shot down as armed groups do operate in the area.


    The plane was chartered from Spain's Swiftair. In a statement on its website (in Spanish), Swiftair confirms it has lost contact with its MD-83 aircraft. The plane took off from Burkina Faso at 01:17 GMT and was supposed to have landed in Algiers at 05:10 GMT, it adds.


    France's transport minister says it is "likely" there were "many" French passengers on the flight - Reuters.

    12:37: Alex Duval Smith, BBC News, Mali

    French and UN troops in northern Mali say they understand the plane came down between the north-eastern towns of Gao and Tessalit. The Nigerian general commanding 1,200 UN troops in Timbuktu said work was only just beginning on trying to trace the aircraft. General Koko Essien told the BBC the area leading up to the Algerian border was vast and sparsely populated. Brigadier General Essien said the weather had been bad in the region overnight.


    French Transport Minister Frederic Cuvillier: "There were likely French people on board, and if there were French people on board, there were certainly many of them" - Reuters.


    The plane was not far from the Algerian frontier when the crew was asked to make a detour because of poor visibility and to prevent the risk of collision with another aircraft, an unnamed Air Algerie company source tells AFP news agency.


    A stock image of a Swiftair MD-83 aircraft. The missing plane was 18 years old and one of five MD-83s owned by the Madrid-based airline, aviation website Flightglobal says.

    Swiftair MD-83 plane

    France's Figaro newspaper talks of several" French citizens being aboard Flight AH5017. It disappeared off the radar about 50 minutes into its flight from Ouagadougou to Algiers, it says, quoting Air Algerie.


    French civil aviation officials are holding an emergency meeting over the missing aircraft, France's transport minister says - AFP.


    "Swiftair" is the most popular term on Twitter in Spain right now, with "Air Algerie" close behind. On French Twitter, the hash tags AH5017 and AirAlgerie are trending as news comes in that there may be French citizens aboard this Spanish jet chartered by Algeria.

    13:00: Simon Proud, aviation safety blogger,

    tweets: Weather at time of #AH5017 loss. Storm on flightpath: Clouds all rising above 40,000ft @eumetsat @thatjohn @RAeSTimR

    13:01: Abdourahman Dia, BBC News, Dakar:

    The pilot reportedly contacted air traffic control in Niamey, Niger, to change course because of a storm. Meanwhile, the authorities in Algiers say they do not rule out any hypothesis, including hijacking.

    13:01: Simon Proud, aviation safety blogger,

    tweets: Minimum recorded temperature was -75C, meaning clouds up to ~49,500ft. Far above cruising altitude. @eumetsat @thatjohn @RAeSTimR


    Fifty French citizens on the passenger list of the missing flight - Air Algerie.


    British aviation expert Chris Yates tells the BBC the age of the plane could be a factor in the incident. "The question being whether that aircraft was, if you will, beyond its sell-by date in so much as it was being operated in an area of the world where scant regard is given sometimes to the age of an aircraft in operation."


    Our news story has just been updated with a map showing what we currently know about the route of the missing aircraft.

    Map showing flight route

    Flight AH5017 should have landed in the Algerian capital just over seven hours ago. In Madrid, media crews are setting up outside the offices of Swiftair as news of its disappearance sinks in.

    A television camera operator mounts a satellite dish on top of a van outside the Swiftair offices in Madrid, Spain,  24 July
    13:20: The Spain Report

    tweets: Spanish airline pilots trade union SEPLA confirms to @thespainreport that 6 AH5017 crew members are Spanish


    More on the MD-83. Originally built by McDonnell Douglas, the aircraft first saw service in 1984. It is a twin rear-engined, short-medium-range airliner and a more powerful version of the MD-80 type, which itself was based on the earlier DC-9. It can hold 172 passengers and has a maximum range of 4,637km (2,881 miles).


    The French military says it is sending two fighter jets based in the region to try to locate the missing plane - Reuters.


    A government crisis centre has been set up in France with a telephone number for families: +33 1 43 17 56 56, Le Figaro reports.


    "Although there were storms, it is normal for the region," aviation safety blogger Simon Proud points out. "This was a big one, but not atypical."

    13:39: Hugh, Oxford

    emails: I took exactly this flight two days ago, coming back from a holiday with some French friends. Thankfully it was without incident - I just can't believe this has happened! Judging from that flight, the passengers will have mostly been French, but a few north and west Africans too. I believe I was the only Brit. Thankfully I'm returning from France by train as otherwise I might feel uneasy flying again! Sympathies obviously go to the victims' families, just terrible.


    All six members of the missing plane's crew are Spanish, Spanish daily El Pais confirms.


    An archive photo of a French Mirage 2000 jet. France has dispatched two to search for traces of the airliner.

    A French Mirage 2000 jet taking off for Libya from the military base of Dijon, 19 March 2011

    McDonnell Douglas merged with Boeing in 1997. The MD-83 is among four planes in the MD-80 family, the others being the MD-81, MD-82, and MD-88, Boeing says on its website.


    Algerians worried about loved ones on the flight can call an Air Algerie help line, 021 509491, Algeria's El Watan newspaper reports (in French).


    Air Algerie says the aircraft's passenger list includes 50 people from France, 24 from Burkinabe, eight from Lebanon, four from Algeria and two from Luxembourg; one Belgian, one Swiss, one Nigerian, one Cameroonian, one Ukrainian and one Romanian - Reuters.


    An Air Algerie official says the missing aircraft has crashed, Reuters reports. No details were given.

    14:14: Real Madrid Info

    tweets: The plane #AH5017 that disappeared today was used by the Real Madrid between 2007 & 2009 known as "La Saeta"[@Marca]


    A Boeing spokesman says the company is "aware" of reports of the missing aircraft is "awaiting additional information", Reuters reports.


    The MD-83's two engines are made by Pratt & Whitney. The last plane in the MD-80 family was produced in 1999 but more than 400 remain in use worldwide, many of them in the US.


    The scheduled route of flight AH5017 goes over Mali, which saw a military coup in 2012. Unrest involving both Ethnic Tuareg separatists and al-Qaeda-linked militants is continuing in the north of the country. However, a French official quoted by AP said it was unlikely that either party had access to weaponry that could shoot down a plane.


    Security sources in Niger say it has sent planes to fly over the border region with Mali to search for flight AH5017, Reuters reports.


    Air Algerie's last major accident took place 11 years ago - a Boeing 737 crashed when one of its engines caught fire shortly after take-off from the southern city of Tamanrasset. The crash killed 102 people.


    In an incident unrelated to Air Algerie, 77 people died in February this year when an Algerian military transport plane crashed into a mountain in the east of the country.


    France's civil aviation body confirms its investigations into the missing aircraft are being run from Paris and Marseille.


    The two French fighter jets trying to locate the missing airline are tracing the flight's probable route, a French army spokesman tells Reuters.

    Siim Kallas, EU Vice President,

    tweets: Black week for aviation. Missing #FlightAH5017; we are following events closely.


    There are now known to be 51 French nationals on the missing plane.


    France's Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius says Air Algerie plane is still missing and has "probably" crashed.

    Michael van Poppel, BNO News

    tweets: Hollande meeting with senior officials at presidential palace in Paris at 5 p.m. local following Air Algerie disappearance


    Ougadougou airport says on its website that Mariela Castro, daughter of Cuban President Raul Castro, is one of the passengers on the plane but the report has been denied.

    16:29: Pablo Esparza, BBC Mundo

    Sources from the National Center for Sexual Education (CENESEX), where Mariela Castro is the director, said to BBC Mundo that she is taking part in an event in Havana.


    If you are just joining us, welcome to our live coverage of the disappearance of an Air Algerie jet over the Sahara, with 116 people aboard, many of them French citizens. No trace of the plane has been found amid fears that it crashed in bad weather en route from Burkina Faso to Algiers.

    16:47: Pablo Esparza, BBC Mundo

    Mariela Castro, daughter of Cuba's President Raul Castro, talks live to Venezuela's Telesur TV: "I'm alive, happy and healthy... Maybe the media that published that news needed a bit of publicity but here I am."


    Flight AH5017 disappeared a day after a passenger jet crashed in Taiwan with the loss of at least 48 lives and a week after 298 people perished when their airliner crashed in Ukraine's conflict zone, apparently downed by a missile. People have been taking to social media to express their anxiety over flying.


    Tim Robinson, editor in chief of the Royal Aeronautical Society's Aerospace magazine, seeks to put these rekindled fears of flying in perspective. If crashes were as frequent today as in the 1950s, some 50,000-200,000 people would be killed annually, he says in a tweet. Fewer than 300 people died in air crashes last year.


    The jet which went missing today was checked "two or three days ago" and was "in good condition", France's aviation watchdog says. It "passed through France in Marseille..." says Patrick Gandil, head of the French civil aviation authority. "We examined it and we found almost nothing. It was really in good condition."


    See our story for a map showing the jet's route and storms in the region at the time.


    David Learmount, operations and safety editor on the Flightglobal website, came up with that comparison with air safety in the 1950s, Robinson adds. Read Learmount's article, published just before this month's air disasters.


    French soldiers have found wreckage from Flight AH5017 in the Tilemsi area of central Mali - French broadcaster BFMTV (in French).

    BBC News website reader

    texts: I understand the people expressing their anxiety over flying after these recent tragic events. However, these events are still very very rare. The pilots are professionals and train extensively before allowed to fly a commercial airliner.


    Radio France International is suggesting a different location for the crash site in Mali - further north and to the east. Local people reported hearing "powerful explosions" early this morning north of Aguelhoc, in the Kidal region, and reported them to military forces in the area, the radio says on its website (in French).


    Prosecutors in Paris have opened a preliminary "involuntary homicide" investigation into the presumed crash of the jet, a judicial source tells AFP.


    French President Francois Hollande has cancelled a trip he was due to make to Reunion, Mayotte and Comoros - BFMTV.


    There is still no confirmation of that BFMTV report that wreckage was found by French soldiers near Tilemsi in central Mali.


    President Hollande: "The search will take as long as needed. Everything must be done to find this plane. We cannot identify the causes of what happened."

    Spanish Swiftair airline office in Madrid

    The Spanish Swiftair airline office in Madrid is besieged by journalists waiting for news.


    Footage has emerged of a sandstorm in Gao, Mali, where Flight AH5017 went missing.


    Earlier, a French broadcaster said that French soldiers had found plane wreckage in central Mali but that remains unconfirmed.

    French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius

    Earlier, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told reporters 51 French nationals were on board.


    As well as the 51 French, there were 24 passengers from Burkina Faso, eight Lebanese, four Algerians, two from Luxembourg, one Belgian, one Swiss, one Nigerian, one Cameroonian, one Ukrainian and one Romanian, according to an Air Algerie spokesman. And there were six Spanish crew members.


    To see the latest updates, plus a map of the plane's route and a profile of the aircraft, you can read our full story.


    tweets: Mali's president says wreckage of Air Algerie flight has been spotted between northern towns of Aguelhoc and Kidal

    Breaking News

    Mali's President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita says wreckage of the missing plane has been spotted in the country's desert north, reports Reuters.


    The BBC's Hugh Schofield in Paris says the flight carried many passengers who were ultimately bound for France, through connections in Algiers.


    Our correspondent tells BBC World News channel that nurses are on hand at airports in Paris, Marseille and Lyon to comfort the people who would this afternoon be welcoming friends and relatives on those connecting flights from Algiers.


    The BBC's Alex Duval-Smith recaps the latest information about Flight AH5017: "Reports suggest wreckage has been found in separate places but it's not clear if this is from the missing aircraft. The plane had been flying from Burkina Faso to the Algerian capital, and there've been severe storms in the area where it lost contact with air traffic controllers."


    Our correspondent continues: "The French President Francois Hollande has vowed to use all his country's military means in Mali to try to find the airliner. Fifty-one of the passengers were French. Two of the country's fighter jets were deployed to try to find the airliner along its probable route from Gao in the northeast to Tessalit in the far north."


    Meanwhile, the French aviation authority said the aircraft, a McDonnell-Douglas MD-83, had been checked this week and was in good condition.


    France's Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius says on French television that authorities are looking at every possible cause for the plane's disappearance, according to the AFP news agency. "We cannot, we must not exclude any hypothesis before having all elements" at our disposal, he says. He says the plane had altered its route due to bad weather.


    The wreckage of AH5017 has reportedly been located 80km (50 miles) south-east of the town of Gossi, in northern Mali, Radio France has quoted the chairman of the crisis committee set up in Burkina Faso as saying.


    The Guardian points out that the disappearance and likely crash of AH5017 brings this week's air death toll to nearly 450 lives. That's three crashes in seven days: the Algerian plane, Malaysian Airlines flight MH17, which killed all 298 people aboard, and a TransAsia flight that crashed in Taiwan on Wednesday killing 48 passengers.


    This concludes our live online coverage of the disappearance and probable crash of Air Algerie flight AH5017. For updates please keep checking our website or tune in to BBC television or radio broadcasts in your location.


Copyright © 2015 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.