Jet with 116 aboard 'probably crashed' in Mali

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Jet with 116 aboard 'probably crashed' in Mali
This photo provided Friday July 25, 2014 by the French army shows a helicopter at the site of the plane crash in Mali. French soldiers secured a black box from the Air Algerie wreckage site in a desolate region of restive northern Mali on Friday, the French president said. Terrorism hasn't been ruled out as a cause, although officials say the most likely reason for the catastrophe that killed all onboard is bad weather. At least 116 people were killed in Thursday's disaster, nearly half of whom were French. (AP Photo/ECPAD)
GAO, MALI - JULY 25 : The image provided on July 25,2014 by the French Defence communication and audiovisual production (ECPAD) show the site of the plane crash in Mali on July 24, 2014. The Flight AH 5017 was carrying 116 passengers and six crew members on board. (Photo by Pool/ECPAD/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
This photo provided on Friday, July 25, 2014, by the Burkina Faso Military shows the site of the plane crash in Mali. French soldiers secured a black box from the Air Algerie wreckage site in a desolate region of restive northern Mali on Friday, the French president said. Terrorism hasn't been ruled out as a cause, although officials say the most likely reason for the catastrophe that killed all onboard is bad weather. At least 116 people were killed in Thursday's disaster, nearly half of whom were French. (AP Photo/Burkina Faso Military)
This photo provided on Friday, July 25, 2014, by the Burkina Faso Military shows the site of the plane crash in Mali. French soldiers secured a black box from the Air Algerie wreckage site in a desolate region of restive northern Mali on Friday, the French president said. Terrorism hasn't been ruled out as a cause, although officials say the most likely reason for the catastrophe that killed all onboard is bad weather. At least 116 people were killed in Thursday's disaster, nearly half of whom were French. (AP Photo/Burkina Faso Military)
This photo provided on Friday, July 25, 2014, by the Burkina Faso Military shows a man at the site of the plane crash in Mali. French soldiers secured a black box from the Air Algerie wreckage site in a desolate region of restive northern Mali on Friday, the French president said. Terrorism hasn't been ruled out as a cause, although officials say the most likely reason for the catastrophe that killed all onboard is bad weather. At least 116 people were killed in Thursday's disaster, nearly half of whom were French. (AP Photo/Burkina Faso Military)
Map shows path of Flight 5017, Algeria and Burkina Faso; 1c x 3 inches; 46.5 mm x 76 mm;
An arrival information screen shows the delayed Air Algerie flight 5017 (top) at the Houari Boumediene airport near Algiers, Algeria, Thursday, July 24, 2014. An Air Algerie flight carrying 116 people from Burkina Faso to Algeria's capital disappeared from radar early Thursday over northern Mali and "probably crashed" according to the plane's owner and government officials in France and Burkina Faso. (AP Photo/Sidali Djarboub)
The logo of the Air Algerie company office, at the Opera avenue in Paris Thursday July 24, 2014. A flight operated by Air Algerie has disappeared from radar while traveling from Burkina Faso in West Africa to Algiers. Authorities say it was carrying over 100 passengers and crew when air navigation services lost track of the Swiftair plane 50 minutes after takeoff earlier this morning. (AP Photo/Remy de la Mauviniere)
Family members and friends await news on Air Algeria Flight 5017 which crashed in Mali on Thursday at the airport in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, Friday, July 25, 2014. French soldiers recovered a black box from the Air Algerie wreckage site in a desolate region of restive northern Mali on Friday, officials said. Terrorism hasn't been ruled out as a cause, although officials say the most likely reason for the catastrophe that killed all 118 people onboard is bad weather. (AP Photo/Brahima Ouedraogo)
This photo provided Friday July 25, 2014 by the French army shows the site of the plane crash in Mali, taken by night by a Reaper drone with InfraRed technology. French soldiers secured a black box from the Air Algerie wreckage site in a desolate region of restive northern Mali on Friday, the French president said. Terrorism hasn't been ruled out as a cause, although officials say the most likely reason for the catastrophe that killed all onboard is bad weather. At least 116 people were killed in Thursday's disaster, nearly half of whom were French. (AP Photo/ECPAD)
This photo taken on Friday, May 16, 2014 shows an MD-83 aircraft in the livery of Swiftair landing at Zaventem Airport Brussels. An Air Algerie flight carrying over 100 people from Burkina Faso to Algeria's capital disappeared from radar early Thursday over northern Mali after heavy rains were reported, according to the plane's owner and government officials in France and Burkina Faso. Air navigation services lost track of the MD-83 about 50 minutes after takeoff from Ougadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, at 0155 GMT (9:55 p.m. EDT Wednesday), the official Algerian news agency APS said. Air Algerie Flight 5017 was being operated by Spanish airline Swiftair, the company said in a statement. The Spanish pilots' union said the plane belonged to Swiftair and it was operated by a Spanish crew. (AP Photo/Kevin Cleynhens)
This photo taken on Friday, May 16, 2014 shows an MD-83 aircraft in the livery of Swiftair landing at Zaventem Airport Brussels. An Air Algerie flight carrying over 100 people from Burkina Faso to Algeria's capital disappeared from radar early Thursday over northern Mali after heavy rains were reported, according to the plane's owner and government officials in France and Burkina Faso. Air navigation services lost track of the MD-83 about 50 minutes after takeoff from Ougadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, at 0155 GMT (9:55 p.m. EDT Wednesday), the official Algerian news agency APS said. Air Algerie Flight 5017 was being operated by Spanish airline Swiftair, the company said in a statement. The Spanish pilots' union said the plane belonged to Swiftair and it was operated by a Spanish crew. (AP Photo/Kevin Cleynhens)
A picture taken on July 24, 2014, shows the 'delayed' status of flight AH 5017 from Ouagadougou to Algiers on the departure/arrival time flight board at the Houari-Boumediene International Airport. An Air Algerie plane with around 120 people on board including French and Spanish nationals went missing during a flight from Burkina Faso to Algiers, company sources and officials said. AFP PHOTO/FAROUK BATICHE (Photo credit should read FAROUK BATICHE/AFP/Getty Images)
A police officer stands on July 24, 2014 at the entrance of a crisis cell at the Roissy-Charles-de-Gaulle airport in Roissy-en-France, Paris' northern suburb, after an Air Algerie plane carrying 50 French nationals went missing after taking off from Burkina Faso for Algiers. France's civil aviation body said crisis cells had been set up at the airports of Paris and Marseille. An Air Algerie source said there were about 110 people on board. AFP PHOTO / KENZO TRIBOUILLARD (Photo credit should read KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/AFP/Getty Images)
A picture taken on July 24, 2014 shows the entrance of Houari-Boumediene International Airport in Algiers. An Air Algerie plane with around 120 people on board including French and Spanish nationals went missing during a flight from Burkina Faso to Algiers, company sources and officials said. AFP PHOTO/FAROUK BATICHE (Photo credit should read FAROUK BATICHE/AFP/Getty Images)
A photo taken on July 24, 2014 shows an Air Algerie airlines office in Paris. Many French nationals are thought to be on board an Air Algerie jet that went missing after taking off from Burkina Faso for Algiers, French Transport Minister Frederic Cuvillier said on July 24. A source in Mali said that contact with the McDonnell Douglas MD-83 was lost over Gao in north Mali, a region that was seized by jihadists groups for several months in 2012 and that remains very unstable despite the Islamists being driven out in a French-led offensive. AFP PHOTO / STEPHANE DE SAKUTIN (Photo credit should read STEPHANE DE SAKUTIN/AFP/Getty Images)
A picture taken on July 24, 2014 shows an ad for Air Algerie call center at the Houari-Boumediene International Airport in Algiers. An Air Algerie plane with around 120 people on board including French and Spanish nationals went missing during a flight from Burkina Faso to Algiers, company sources and officials said. AFP PHOTO/FAROUK BATICHE (Photo credit should read FAROUK BATICHE/AFP/Getty Images)
A photo taken on July 24, 2014 shows the window of an Air Algerie airlines office in Paris. Many French nationals are thought to be on board an Air Algerie jet that went missing after taking off from Burkina Faso for Algiers, French Transport Minister Frederic Cuvillier said on July 24. A source in Mali said that contact with the McDonnell Douglas MD-83 was lost over Gao in north Mali, a region that was seized by jihadists groups for several months in 2012 and that remains very unstable despite the Islamists being driven out in a French-led offensive. AFP PHOTO / STEPHANE DE SAKUTIN (Photo credit should read STEPHANE DE SAKUTIN/AFP/Getty Images)
A person inside the Swiftair offices takes some papers out of a window after the press arrived at their offices in Madrid, Spain, Thursday, July 24, 2014. A flight operated by Air Algerie and carrying over 100 people from Burkina Faso to Algeria's capital disappeared from radar early Thursday, the plane's owner said. Swiftair, a private Spanish airline, said the plane left Burkina Faso for Algiers at 0117 GMT Thursday (9:17 p.m. EDT Wednesday), but had not arrived at the scheduled time of 0510 GMT (1:10 a.m. EDT Thursday). (AP Photo/Paul White)
Journalists gather outside the Swiftair offices in Madrid, Spain, Thursday, July 24, 2014. A flight operated by Air Algerie and carrying over 100 people from Burkina Faso to Algeria's capital disappeared from radar early Thursday. Swiftair, a private Spanish airline, said the aircraft left Burkina Faso for Algiers at 0117 GMT Thursday (9:17 p.m. EDT Wednesday), but had not arrived at the scheduled time of 0510 GMT (1:10 a.m. EDT Thursday). (AP Photo/Paul White)
A television camera operator mounts a satellite dish on top of a van outside the Swiftair offices in Madrid, Spain, Thursday, July 24, 2014. A flight operated by Air Algerie and carrying 116 people from Burkina Faso to Algeria's capital disappeared from radar early Thursday, the plane's operator said. Swiftair, a private Spanish airline, said the plane carrying over 100 passengers and crew left Burkina Faso for Algiers at 0117 GMT Thursday (9:17 p.m. EDT Wednesday), but had not arrived at the scheduled time of 0510 GMT (1:10 a.m. EDT Thursday). (AP Photo/Paul White)
Passersby walk past the Air Algerie company office, on the Opera Avenue in Paris Thursday July 24, 2014. A flight operated by Air Algerie has disappeared from radar while traveling from Burkina Faso in West Africa to Algiers. Authorities say it was carrying over 100 passengers and crew when air navigation services lost track of the Swiftair plane 50 minutes after takeoff earlier this morning. (AP Photo/Remy de la Mauviniere)
GAO, MALI - JULY 25 : The image provided on July 25,2014 by the French Defence communication and audiovisual production (ECPAD) show the site of the plane crash in Mali on July 24, 2014. The Flight AH 5017 was carrying 116 passengers and six crew members on board. (Photo by Pool/ECPAD/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
GAO, MALI - JULY 25 : The image provided on July 25,2014 by the French Defence communication and audiovisual production (ECPAD) show the site of the plane crash in Mali on July 24, 2014. The Flight AH 5017 was carrying 116 passengers and six crew members on board. (Photo by Pool/ECPAD/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
GAO, MALI - JULY 25 : The image provided on July 25,2014 by the French Defence communication and audiovisual production (ECPAD) show the site of the plane crash in Mali on July 24, 2014. The Flight AH 5017 was carrying 116 passengers and six crew members on board. (Photo by Pool/ECPAD/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
GAO, MALI - JULY 25 : The image provided on July 25,2014 by the French Defence communication and audiovisual production (ECPAD) show the site of the plane crash in Mali on July 24, 2014. The Flight AH 5017 was carrying 116 passengers and six crew members on board. (Photo by Pool/ECPAD/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
GAO, MALI - JULY 25 : The image provided on July 25,2014 by the French Defence communication and audiovisual production (ECPAD) show the site of the plane crash in Mali on July 24, 2014. The Flight AH 5017 was carrying 116 passengers and six crew members on board. (Photo by Pool/ECPAD/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Investigators from the French Air Transport Gendarmerie and the French Criminal Analysis Unit (Institut de recherche criminelle de la gendarmerie nationale, IRCGN) gather around their gear on July 25, 2014 at Velizy-Villacoublay's military airport, west of Paris, before leaving for the crash site of Air Algerie flight AH5017 in Mali's Gossi region, west of Gao. France announced today that all people on board the Air Algerie passenger plane died in the tragedy, including several families that were wiped out. The occupants included 54 French citizens, some of them dual nationals, as well as people from Burkina Faso, Lebanon, Algeria, Spain, Canada, Germany and Luxembourg. The cause of the crash has not yet been determined, but it was being increasingly blamed on bad weather which had forced the pilots to divert course. AFP PHOTO / FRANCOIS GUILLOT (Photo credit should read FRANCOIS GUILLOT/AFP/Getty Images)
This photo provided on Friday, July 25, 2014, by the Burkina Faso Military shows a part of the plane at the crash site, in Mali. French soldiers secured a black box from the Air Algerie wreckage site in a desolate region of restive northern Mali on Friday, the French president said. Terrorism hasn't been ruled out as a cause, although officials say the most likely reason for the catastrophe that killed all onboard is bad weather. At least 116 people were killed in Thursday's disaster, nearly half of whom were French. (AP Photo/Burkina Faso Military)
This photo provided on Friday, July 25, 2014, by the Burkina Faso Military shows a part of the plane at the crash site, in Mali. French soldiers secured a black box from the Air Algerie wreckage site in a desolate region of restive northern Mali on Friday, the French president said. Terrorism hasn't been ruled out as a cause, although officials say the most likely reason for the catastrophe that killed all onboard is bad weather. At least 116 people were killed in Thursday's disaster, nearly half of whom were French. (AP Photo/Burkina Faso Military)
A man wearing a shirt with a Swiftair logo and carrying a Swiftair folder enters the Spanish airline's office in Madrid, Spain, Thursday, July 24, 2014. An Air Algerie flight carrying 116 people from Burkina Faso to Algeria's capital disappeared from radar early Thursday over northern Mali, officials said. The flight was being operated by Spanish airline Swiftair, the company said in a statement, and the plane belonged to Swiftair. The flight crew was Spanish. (AP Photo/Paul White)
French policemen surround an Air Algerie passenger plane checking a luggage compartment on the tarmac of the suburban Roissy Charles de Gaulle airport Saturday April 26, 1997. Air Algerie, Algeria's national carrier, resumed flights Friday to Paris after a two-year hiatus instigated by French security concerns and prolonged by bickering on both sides. Flights were suspended in the summer of 1995, months after a highjacking of an Air France plane by Muslim militants waging an insurgency in Algeria since 1992.(AP Photo/Jacques Brinon)
General Gilbert Diendere, the Chief of the Military Staff of the Burkinabe President, in charge of the crisis centre, looks on during a press conference in Ouagadougou, on July 25, 2014, after a visit on the crash site of the Air Algerie plane, which crashed over Mali on July 24 with more than 100 people on board. The wreckage of the McDonnell Douglas MD-83 plane, which was flying from Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso to the Algerian capital Algiers, was located 50 kilometres (31 miles) north of the Burkina Faso border in Mali's Gossi region. AFP PHOTO/ SIA KAMBOU (Photo credit should read SIA KAMBOU/AFP/Getty Images)
French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve arrives on July 26, 2014 at the Elysee palace in Paris for a crisis meeting with the French President and other ministers about the Air Algerie jetliner that crashed in Mali. All passengers and crew on board an Air Algerie jetliner that crashed in Mali died in the tragedy, which completely wiped out several families, France boring the brunt of the disaster, with some 54 French citizens among the overall death toll of between 116 and 118, according to unexplained conflicting figures given by the carrier and French authorities. AFP PHOTO / FRANCOIS GUILLOT (Photo credit should read FRANCOIS GUILLOT/AFP/Getty Images)
Investigators from the French Air Transport Gendarmerie and the French Criminal Analysis Unit (Institut de recherche criminelle de la gendarmerie nationale, IRCGN) gather on July 25, 2014 at Velizy-Villacoublay's military airport, west of Paris, before leaving for the crash site of Air Algerie flight AH5017 in Mali's Gossi region, west of Gao. France announced today that all people on board the Air Algerie passenger plane died in the tragedy, including several families that were wiped out. The occupants included 54 French citizens, some of them dual nationals, as well as people from Burkina Faso, Lebanon, Algeria, Spain, Canada, Germany and Luxembourg. The cause of the crash has not yet been determined, but it was being increasingly blamed on bad weather which had forced the pilots to divert course. AFP PHOTO / FRANCOIS GUILLOT (Photo credit should read FRANCOIS GUILLOT/AFP/Getty Images)
Investigators from the French Air Transport Gendarmerie and the French Criminal Analysis Unit (Institut de recherche criminelle de la gendarmerie nationale, IRCGN) wait on July 25, 2014 at Velizy-Villacoublay's military airport, west of Paris, before leaving for the crash site of Air Algerie flight AH5017 in Mali's Gossi region, west of Gao. France announced today that all people on board the Air Algerie passenger plane died in the tragedy, including several families that were wiped out. The occupants included 54 French citizens, some of them dual nationals, as well as people from Burkina Faso, Lebanon, Algeria, Spain, Canada, Germany and Luxembourg. The cause of the crash has not yet been determined, but it was being increasingly blamed on bad weather which had forced the pilots to divert course. AFP PHOTO / FRANCOIS GUILLOT (Photo credit should read FRANCOIS GUILLOT/AFP/Getty Images)
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By AOMAR OUALI and BRAHIMA OUEDRAOGO
Associated Press

ALGIERS, Algeria (AP) - An Air Algerie jetliner carrying 116 people vanished Thursday in a rainstorm over restive northern Mali, and French officials say it has probably crashed - the third major international aviation disaster in a week.

French fighter jets, U.N. peacekeepers and others hunted for signs of wreckage of the MD-83 plane in the remote region, where scattered separatist violence may hamper the search and any eventual investigation into what happened.

Families from France to Canada and beyond waited anxiously for signs of Flight 5017 and their loved ones aboard. Nearly half of the passengers were French, many en route home from Africa.

The plane, owned by Spanish company Swiftair and leased by Air Algerie, disappeared from radar screens less than an hour after takeoff, en route from Burkina Faso's capital of Ouagadougou to Algiers.

"Everything allows us to believe this plane crashed in Mali," French President Francois Hollande said after an emergency meeting in Paris. He said the crew changed its flight path because of "particularly difficult weather conditions."

Earlier, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told reporters the plane "probably crashed" and no "trace of the aircraft has been found."

His face drawn and voice somber, Fabius added, "If this catastrophe is confirmed, it would be a major tragedy that hits our entire nation, and many others."

Conflicting reports emerged about wreckage spotted in two different sites, several hundred kilometers (miles) away from each other in the sparse, vast region where the Sahara Desert meets the rest of Africa.

Malian Communiciations Minister Mahamadou Camara told The Associated Press on Thursday night that the plane hadn't yet been found and "the search is underway." French military and diplomatic officials also said no wreckage had been found.

Before vanishing, the pilots sent a final message to ask Niger air control to change its route because of heavy rain, Burkina Faso Transport Minister Jean Bertin Ouedraogo said.

A resident who lives in a village in Mali about 80 kilometers (50 miles) southeast of the town of Gossi said he saw a plane coming down early Thursday, according to Gen. Gilbert Diendere, heading the crisis committee set up in Burkina Faso.

"We think that it is a reliable source because it corresponds to the latest radar images of the plane before it lost contact with air controllers," Diendere said.

Radar images show the plane deviated from its route, Diendere said. Gossi is nearly 200 kilometers (175 miles) southwest of Gao.

The French president said "all military means we have in Mali" were being activated for the search, through the night if needed. France has considerable military resources there because of its intervention that began in January 2013 to rout al-Qaida-linked extremists who were controlling the north.

The U.N. peacekeeping mission in Mali, known as MINUSMA, was helping in the search, U.N. deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said.

Algerian Transport Minister Omar Ghoul, whose country's planes were also searching for wreckage, described it as a "serious and delicate affair."

The vast deserts and mountains of northern Mali fell under control of ethnic Tuareg separatists and then al-Qaida-linked Islamic extremists after a military coup in 2012.

The French-led intervention scattered the extremists, but the Tuaregs have pushed back against the authority of the Bamako-based government. Meanwhile, the threat from Islamic militants hasn't disappeared, and France is giving its troops a new and larger anti-terrorist mission across the region.

A senior French official said it seems unlikely that fighters in Mali had the kind of weaponry that could shoot down a jetliner at cruising altitude. While al-Qaida's North Africa branch is believed to have an SA-7 surface-to-air missile, also known as MANPADS, most airliners would normally fly out of range of these shoulder-fired weapons. They can hit targets flying up to roughly 12,000-15,000 feet.

The disappearance of the Air Algerie plane comes after a series of aviation disasters.

Fliers around the globe have been on edge ever since Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 disappeared in March on its way to Beijing. Searchers have yet to find a single piece of wreckage from the jet with 239 people on board.

Last week, a Malaysia Airlines flight was shot down while flying over a war-torn section of Ukraine, and the U.S. has blamed it on separatists firing a surface-to-air missile.

Earlier this week, U.S. and European airlines started canceling flights to Tel Aviv after a rocket landed near the city's airport. Finally, on Wednesday, a Taiwanese plane crashed during a storm, killing 48 people.

It's easy to see why fliers are jittery, but air travel is relatively safe.

There have been two deaths for every 100 million passengers on commercial flights in the last decade, excluding acts of terrorism. Travelers are much more likely to die driving to the airport than stepping on a plane. There are more than 30,000 motor-vehicle deaths in the U.S. each year, a mortality rate eight times greater than that in planes.

The Air Algerie jet had been missing for hours before the news was made public. It wasn't clear why airline or government officials didn't release information earlier.

Swiftair, a private Spanish airline, said the plane was carrying 110 passengers and six crew, and left Burkina Faso for Algiers at 0117 GMT Thursday (9:17 p.m. EDT Wednesday), but had not arrived at the scheduled time of 0510 GMT (1:10 a.m. EDT Thursday). It said the crew included two pilots and four flight attendants.

The passengers include 51 French, 27 Burkina Faso nationals, eight Lebanese, six Algerians, five Canadians, four Germans, two Luxembourg nationals, one Swiss, one Belgian, one Egyptian, one Ukrainian, one Nigerian, one Cameroonian and one Malian, Ouedraogo said. The six crew members are Spanish, according to the Spanish pilots' union.

Swiftair said the plane was built in 1996 and has two Pratt & Whitney JT8D-219 PW engines.

Swiftair took ownership of the plane on Oct. 24, 2012, after it spent nearly 10 months unused in storage, according to Flightglobal's Ascend Online Fleets, which sells and tracks information about aircraft. It has more than 37,800 hours of flight time and has made more than 32,100 takeoffs and landings.

If confirmed as a crash, this would be the fifth one - and the second with fatalities - for Swiftair since its founding in 1986, according to the Flight Safety Foundation.

The MD-83 is part of a series of jets built since the early 1980s by McDonnell Douglas, a U.S. company now owned by Boeing Co. The MD-80s are single-aisle planes that were a workhorse of the airline industry for short- and medium-range flights for nearly two decades. As jet fuel prices spiked in recent years, airlines have rapidly being replacing the jets with newer, fuel-efficient models such as Boeing 737s and Airbus A320s.

There are 496 other MD-80s being flown, according to Ascend.

Boeing spokesman Wilson Chow said the company was aware of the reports on the plane and was "gathering more information."

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