Air Algerie AH5017: Pilots 'asked to turn back'

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius at a press conference in Paris - 28 July 2014 Image copyright AFP
Image caption Laurent Fabius said the work being done by French experts in Mali was an "extremely complex job"

The French Foreign Minister, Laurent Fabius, has revealed that the pilots of an airliner that crashed in Mali last Thursday had asked to turn back.

Mr Fabius said the crew of Air Algerie flight AH5017 requested to return to Burkina Faso after initially asking to change course due to bad weather.

The plane's two flight data recorders have arrived in France.

The jet was flying to Algeria when it crashed in Mali, killing all 118 aboard, including 54 French citizens.

France has taken the leading role in the investigation.

Image copyright EPA
Image caption The French investigators at the crash site were facing "extremely difficult conditions," Mr Fabius said
Image copyright Reuters
Image caption French flags flew at half-mast on Monday as the country began three days of mourning for the victims

"What we know for sure is that the weather was bad that night, that the plane crew had asked to change route then to turn back before all contact was lost," Mr Fabius said on Monday.

A team of French investigators is currently sifting through the plane's wreckage in Mali, but Mr Fabius said they were facing "extremely difficult conditions".

"It's a long, fastidious and extremely complex job," he added.

French, Malian and Dutch soldiers from a UN peacekeeping force (MINUSMA) have secured the site, about 80 km (50 miles) south of the Malian town of Gossi, near the Burkina Faso border.

Earlier on Monday, a French official confirmed that the two flight data recorders had arrived in France and were now being examined by experts.

One of the devices was retrieved almost as soon as rescuers arrived on the spot, while the second was found late Saturday.

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Media captionTomasz Schafernaker on the weather in the area at the time of the flight

A source close to the investigation told the AFP news agency that one of them was badly damaged on the outside.

But Martine Del Bono, a spokeswoman for the French aviation investigation office, refused to comment on their condition, telling press: "At this stage, we cannot say anymore."

Even if both "black boxes" are in good condition, French Transport Minister Thierry Mariani has warned that analysing the flight data and cockpit conversations could take "weeks".

French flags were lowered to half-mast on Monday for three days in memory of the dead.

Nearly half of those on board were French. There were also 27 from Burkina Faso and further passengers from, among others, Lebanon, Algeria, Canada and Germany. One victim was British.

Among the French contingent on board flight AH5017 was a family of 10.

The plane, a McDonnell Douglas MD-83, had been chartered from Spanish airline Swiftair and all six members of the crew were Spanish.

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