'No trace' of missing plane which has 'probably crashed', says French minister

'No trace' of missing plane which has 'probably crashed', says French minister
Laurent Fabius.

The Air Algerie flight that went missing over Mali has “probably crashed”, France’s foreign minister said.

Laurent Fabius said “no trace” of the plane has been found.

Two French fighter jets are among aircraft scouring the rugged north of Mali for the MD-83 that was travelling from the Burkina Faso capital of Ouagadougou to Algiers, the Algerian capital.

About half of the passengers were French.

The flight was carrying 116 people as it disappeared from radar early today over northern Mali after heavy rains were reported, according to officials.

Air navigation services lost track of the MD-83 about 50 minutes after take-off, the official Algerian news agency APS said.

Air Algerie Flight 5017 was being operated by private Spanish airline Swiftair, the company said, adding that the plane was carrying 110 passengers and six crew.

The Spanish pilots’ union said the plane belonged to Swiftair and that the six crew members are Spanish nationals.

It left Burkina Faso for Algiers at 1.17am Irish Time, but had not arrived at the scheduled time of 5.10am Irish Time.

Swiftair said it had not been possible to make contact with the plane and was trying to ascertain what had happened. It said the crew included two pilots and four cabin staff.

“In keeping with procedures, Air Algerie has launched its emergency plan,” APS quoted the airline as saying.

The plane sent its last message at around 1.30am Irish Time, asking Niger air control to change its route because of heavy rains in the area, Mr Ouedraogo said.

French transport minister Frederic Cuvillier said the plane vanished over northern Mali. He spoke from a crisis centre set up in the French foreign ministry.

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, Mr Ouedraogo said. The six crew members are Spanish, according to the Spanish pilots’ union.

The plane had been missing for hours before the news was made public. It was not known why airline or government officials did not make it public earlier.

Northern Mali fell under control of ethnic Tuareg separatists and then al Qaida-linked Islamic extremists following a military coup in 2012. A French-led intervention last year scattered the extremists, but the Tuaregs have pushed back against the authority of the Bamako-based government.

A senior French official said it seems unlikely that fighters in Mali had the kind of weaponry that could shoot down a plane.

The official said that they primarily have shoulder-fired weapons – not enough to hit a passenger plane flying at cruising altitude.

The MD-83 is part of a series of long-range jets built since the early 1980s by McDonnell Douglas, a US plane maker now owned by Boeing.

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