Algerian plane with 119 onboard disappears over Mali

Algerian plane with 119 onboard disappears over Mali
Thu Jul 24, 2014 21:43:10

An Air Algerie plane with nearly 120 passengers on board has gone missing over Mali’s airspace during a flight from Burkina Faso to Algiers, company sources and officials said.

Aviation sources identified the missing aircraft on Thursday as a McDonnell Douglas MD-83 leased from Spanish company Swiftair and carrying passengers from multiple nationalities, including Lebanese, French and Spaniards.

Its six-member crew were all Spanish, said Spain's airline pilots' union Sepla, while Swiftair confirmed the aircraft had gone missing less than an hour after takeoff from Ouagadougou.

Many French nationals were thought to be on board the plane, France's Transport Minister Frederic Cuvillier said in Paris.

Other press reports said nearly half of the passengers on the plane were French nationals and that more than 20 were from Lebanon.

He said after a government meeting that top civil aviation officials were holding an emergency meeting and a crisis cell had been set up.

"The plane disappeared at Gao (in Mali), 500 kilometres (300 miles) from the Algerian border. Several nationalities are among the victims," Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal was cited as saying by Algerian radio.

Despite major French military intervention in Mali that began in 2013, the situation remains unstable in northern Mali.

On July 17, the Bamako government and armed groups from northern Mali launched tough talks in Algiers aimed at securing an elusive peace deal, and with parts of the country still mired in conflict.

"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 on the Algiers-Bamako route," the airline source said.

"Contact was lost after the change of course."

The carrier, in a statement carried by national news agency APS, said it initiated an "emergency plan" in the search for flight AH5017, which flies the four-hour passenger route four times a week.

One of Algeria's worst air disasters occurred in February this year, when a C-130 military aircraft carrying 78 people crashed in poor weather in the mountainous northeast, killing more than 70 people.

The plane was flying from the desert garrison town of Tamanrasset in Algeria's deep south to Constantine, 320 kilometres (200 miles) east of Algiers.