Algiers, July 24 (Reuters): An Air Algerie flight crashed today en route from Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso to Algiers with 110 passengers and six crew on board, an Algerian aviation official said.
There were few clear indications of what might have happened to the aircraft, or whether there were casualties, but Burkino Faso transport minister Jean Bertin Ouedrago said it asked to change route at 0138 GMT because of a storm in the area.
“I can confirm that it has crashed,” the Algerian official told Reuters, declining to be identified or give any details about what had happened to the aircraft on its way north. Almost half of the passengers were French citizens, an airline official said.
Two French fighter jets based in the region have been dispatched to try to locate the airliner along its probable route, a French army spokesman said. Niger security sources said planes were flying over the border region with Mali to search for the flight.
Algeria’s state news agency APS said authorities lost contact with flight AH 5017 an hour after it took off from Burkina Faso, but other officials gave differing accounts of the times of contact, adding to confusion about the plane's fate.
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 diplomat in the Malian capital Bamako said that the north of the country — which lies on the plane’s likely flight path — was struck by a powerful sandstorm overnight.
Whatever the cause, another plane crash is likely to add to nerves in the industry after a Malaysia Airlines plane was downed over Ukraine last week, a TransAsia Airways crashed off Taiwan during a thunderstorm yesterday and airlines cancelled flights into Tel Aviv due to the conflict in Gaza.
An Air Algerie representative in Burkina Faso, Kara Terki, told a news conference that all the passengers on the plane were in transit, either for Europe, West Asia or Canada.
He said the passenger list included 50 French, 24 Burkinabe, eight Lebanese, four Algerians, two from Luxembourg, one Belgian, one Swiss, one Nigerian, one Cameroonian, one Ukrainian and one Romanian. Lebanese officials said there were at least 10 Lebanese citizens on the flight. A spokeswoman for SEPLA, Spain’s pilots union, said the six crew were from Spain. She could not give any further details.
Swiftair said on its website the aircraft took off from Burkina Faso at 0117 GMT and was supposed to land in Algiers 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. Aviation authorities in Burkina say they handed the flight to the control tower in Niamey, Niger, at 0138 GMT.