Algeria passenger plane wreckage found in Mali

Speaking on state television, the Malian Minister of Transport confirmed that wreckage had been found, as Alpa Patel reports.

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The wreckage of a plane that disappeared with 116 people on board on a flight from Burkina Faso to Algiers has been found in Mali, officials say.

French troops based in the region are on their way to secure the site, about 50km (30 miles) from the border with Burkina Faso, French officials said.

Air traffic controllers lost contact with the plane early on Thursday after pilots reported severe storms.

The passengers on the Air Algerie flight included 51 French citizens.

The McDonnell Douglas MD-83 - Flight AH 5017 - had been chartered from Spanish airline Swiftair.

French President Francois Hollande expressed solidarity with the friends and families of those on board.

"A French military unit has been sent to (the area) to secure the site and gather evidence," his office said in a statement (in French).

The statement went on to say that the plane had "disintegrated", without giving further details.

France's Interior Minister said it appeared likely the plane had crashed due to bad weather.

'Burnt and scattered'

The crash site was identified on Thursday by the Burkina Faso army near the village of Boulikessi, officials said.

Gilbert Diendere, a Burkina Faso army general, said Mali had agreed to their cross-border search which was launched after a resident in Gossi described seeing a plane go down to the south-west of the town.

"Sadly, the team saw no-one on site. It saw no survivors," he told reporters.

Weather map

"They found human remains and the wreckage of the plane totally burnt and scattered," he added.

Malian state radio said shepherds had been the first to spot the wreckage and had informed the authorities, the BBC's Alex Duval Smith reports from the Malian capital, Bamako.

'Sandstorm'

French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve told French radio network RTL that "the aircraft was destroyed at the moment it crashed", meaning that it did not appear likely that the plane was attacked mid-flight.

"We think the aircraft crashed for reasons linked to the weather conditions, although no theory can be excluded at this point," he said.

Earlier, French fighter jets and UN helicopters had been hunting for the wreck in the more remote desert region of northern Mali between Gao and Tessalit.

Algerian Minister of Transport Amar Ghoul (left) chairs an Algerian crisis unit meeting at the Houari-Boumediene International Airport in Algiers, Algeria, 24 July 2014 Algerian officials held a crisis meeting on the crashed plane

Contact with Flight AH 5017 was lost about 50 minutes after take-off from Ouagadougou early on Thursday morning, Air Algerie said.

The pilot had contacted Niger's control tower in Niamey at around 01:30 GMT to change course because of a sandstorm, officials say.

Burkina Faso authorities said the passenger list comprised 27 people from Burkina Faso, 51 French, eight Lebanese, six Algerians, two from Luxembourg, five Canadians, four Germans, one Cameroonian, one Belgian, one Egyptian, one Ukrainian, one Swiss, one Nigerian and one Malian.

The six crew members are Spanish, according to the Spanish pilots' union.

French ties

Flight AH 5017 flies the Ouagadougou-Algiers route four times a week, AFP reported.

BBC West Africa correspondent Thomas Fessy says it a route often used by French travellers.

France sent troops to Mali in January 2013 after al-Qaeda-linked militants threatened to overrun the capital, Bamako.

It ended its military deployment in Mali in July, but agreed to keep troops in the region as part of a new military operation based in Chad, focused on targeting Islamist extremists in the Sahel region.

France has strong ties to many west African countries. Mali, Algeria and Chad were all former French colonies.

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McDonnell Douglas MD-83

Chris Yates, aviation analyst, said the aircraft was "relatively elderly"

  • Twin rear-engine, short-medium range airliner
  • More powerful version of the MD-80 type, based on earlier DC-9
  • Range: 4,637km (2,881 miles)
  • Capacity: 172 passengers
  • First flew: 1984
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