Air Algerie Plane Missing: Flight AH5017 Disappears From Radar (LIVE UPDATES)

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ALGIERS, Algeria — An Air Algerie flight from Burkina Faso to Algeria's capital that disappeared from radar early Thursday over northern Mali carried 116 people, including five Canadians, officials said.

France's foreign minister said no wreckage had been found, but that the plane "probably crashed.''

Air navigation services lost track of the MD-83 about 50 minutes after takeoff from Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, at 0155 GMT (9:55 p.m. EDT Wednesday), the official Algerian news agency APS said.

"Despite an intensive search, at the moment I speak no trace of the aircraft has been found,'' French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told reporters in Paris. "The plane has probably crashed.''

Two French fighter jets are among aircraft scouring the rugged north of Mali for the plane, which was travelling from Burkina Faso's capital, Ouagadougou, to Algiers, the Algerian capital.

More than 50 French passengers were onboard the plane along with 27 Burkina Faso nationals as well as citizens of a dozen other countries, including the five Canadians. The flight crew was Spanish.

Tweets from the account of Lynne Yelich, Canada's Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, said the government is aware of the reports of Canadians on board and that they are seeking more information, but that consular officials are ready to provide assistance.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of all those on board Air Algerie Flight AAH 5017,'' said one of the tweets.

The flight was being operated by Spanish airline Swiftair, the company said in a statement, and the plane belonged to Swiftair.

The plane sent its last message around 0130 GMT (9:30 p.m. EDT), asking Niger air control to change its route because of heavy rains in the area, Burkina Faso Transport Minister Jean Bertin Ouedraogo said.

The disappearance of the Air Algerie plane comes after a spate 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 by a surface-to-air missile while flying over a war-torn section of Ukraine. A Canadian was among the almost 300 who perised in that disaster. The back-to-back disasters involving Boeing 777s flown by the same airline were too much of a coincidence for many fliers.

Then this week, U.S., Canadian and European airlines started cancelling 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. Travellers 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.

French Transport Minister Frederic Cuvillier said the Air Algerie flight vanished over northern Mali. He spoke Thursday from a crisis centre set up in the French Foreign Ministry. Cuvillier didn't specify exactly where the plane disappeared over Mali, or whether it was in an area controlled by rebels.

But Algerian Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal said on Algerian state television said that 10 minutes before disappearing, it was in contact with air traffic controllers in Gao, a city essentially under the control of the Malian government, though it has seen lingering separatist violence.

The plane had been missing for hours before the news was made public. It wasn't immediately clear why airline or government officials didn't make it public earlier.

The flight path of the plane from Ouagadougou to Algiers wasn't immediately clear. Ouagadougou is in a nearly straight line south of Algiers, passing over Mali where unrest continues in the north.

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, not authorized to speak publicly, said on condition of anonymity that they primarily have shoulder-fired weapons - not enough to hit a passenger plane flying at cruising altitude.

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).

Swiftair said it has 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.

Later, Swiftair said the plane was built in 1996 and has two Pratt & Whitney JT8D-219 PW engines. It can carry 165 passengers.

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. The plane has had several owners over the years, including Avianca and Austral Lineas Aereas.

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 only other fatal crash for the airline came on July 28, 1998, when the two pilots died on a cargo flight to Barcelona.

Algerian aircraft were overflying the region around Gao to try to locate wreckage, said Houaoui Zoheir, spokesman for the Algerian crisis centre. He provided no details on the type or number of aircraft.

"As long as we haven't found the wreckage, we can't talk of a crash,'' he said. "We talk of loss of contact.''

The passengers include 51 French, 27 Burkina Faso nationals, eight Lebanese, six Algerians, five Canadians, four Germans, two Luxemburg nationals, one Swiss, one Belgium, 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.

The report that five Canadians were on the Air Algerie flight comes a week after a Canadian was among the nearly 300 who perished when a Malaysian passenger plane was shot down over eastern Ukraine in an area controlled by pro-Russian rebels. Andrei Anghel was a 24-year-old medical student from Ajax, east of Toronto.

The MD-83 is part of a series of jets built since the early 1980s by McDonnell Douglas, a U.S. plane maker 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 by airlines around the world, according to Ascend.

"We're aware of reports on Air Algerie Flight AH5017,'' Boeing spokesman Wilson Chow said. ``Our team is gathering more information.''


Brahima Ouedraogo reported from Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. AP journalists Ciaran Giles in Madrid, Spain, and Elaine Ganley, Thomas Adamson and Sylvie Corbet in Paris, contributed to this report.

--With files from The Canadian Press

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Today (17:31) BST
VIDEO: Crash Site

The Associated Press released footage of the crash site of an Air Algerie plane.

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Frédéric Cuvillier, the French junior minister for transport, said France is ruling out a ground strike as the cause of the crash of the Air Algérie flight over Mali.

French President François Hollande also spoke to the press Friday, updating the number of casualties to 118, more than had been originally reported.

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A French military unit has been dispatched to secure the crash site of the Air Algerie jet that crashed in northern Mali on July 24, The Associated Press reported.

The troops aim to secure the evidence and human remains found about 30 miles from the border of Burkina Faso before extremists take over the area.

"Terrorist groups are in the zone ... We know these groups are hostile to Western interests," French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve told RTL radio.

FMI: Click here.

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French investigators believe bad weather may have played a role in the crash of Air Algerie Flight AH5017 on July 24, ITV reported.

"We think the aircraft crashed for reasons linked to the weather conditions, although no theory can be excluded at this point," French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve told RTL radio.

For more, click here.

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The French government claimed that the wreckage of the Air Algerie plane that went missing was spotted in Mali's Gossi region, echoing similar reports made.

Malian state TV had reported similarly earlier, followed by a Burkina Faso official who said that the wreckage had been found near the border Mali-Burkina Faso border, the Associated Press reports.

-- Andrew Hart

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Reuters reports that Malian State TV has said that the wreckage of the Air Algerie flight was found close to Gossi in Mali.

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24/07/2014 23:11 BST
More From The AP:

OUAGADOUGO, Burkina Faso (AP) — A Burkina Faso official says the wreckage of the Air Algerie plane that went missing has been found in Mali.

Gen. Gilbert Diendere says the wreckage was located about 50 kilometers (31 miles) from the border of Burkina Faso near the village of Boulikessi in Mali.

Diendere is a close aide to President Blaise Compaore and head of the crisis committee set up to coordinate research for the plane that vanished Thursday in a rainstorm over northern Mali.

He says searchers found human remains and burned and scattered plane wreckage.

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24/07/2014 23:05 BST
AP: Wreckage Found
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24/07/2014 22:55 BST

Swiftair, the company that owns the plane that went missing over Ukraine, says the wreckage has not been located yet.

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From The Associated Press:

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.

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Burkina Faso's army told Agence France Presse that it had located the missing Air Algerie plane in Mali, near the border.

"We have found the Algerian plane. The wreck has been located ... 50 kilometres (30 miles) north of the Burkina Faso border" General Gilbert Diendiere from the Burkina Faso army told the news service.

Diendiere's claims have not yet been verified

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Agence France Press says Burkina Faso's army has announced the wreck of the missing Algeria Airlines flight was found in Mali.

There have been conflicting reports throughout the day about the location of the wreckage. Burkina Faso's airport announced earlier on Thursday French troops had spotted the plane in a remote area. France later denied those claims.

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Reuters reports that Mali's president is stating wreckage of Air Algerie Flight AH5017 has been spotted in the country's north. There have been conflicting reports throughout the day as to the location of the plane.

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Throughout the day, conflicting reports emerged over what had happened to Algeria Airlines flight 5017 on Thursday, and whether the wreckage of the plane had been found. Here's a recap of the contradicting reports today:

- Reuters and CBC reported early on that an Algerian aviation official had confirmed the airplane had crashed. "I can confirm that it has crashed," the official told Reuters, but declined to give more details.

- Speaking to NBC News, an airport official in Burkina Faso also said the plane had crashed and added that the wreckage had been found.

- The airport of Ouagadougou claimed later on its website it had confirmation the airplane had crashed and that French forces had located the wreckage in a remote area in northern Mali.

- French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told reporters in Paris that the plane "probably" crashed, but that the wreckage had not been found. "Despite intensive search efforts no trace of the aircraft has yet been found," French Foreign Minster Laurent Fabius told journalists in Paris, Reuters reports. "The plane probably crashed," he added.

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France's foreign ministry said on Thursday that an Air Algerie plane that went missing over northern Mali has probably crashed. French military jets are searching the area for the wreckage.

"Despite intensive search efforts no trace of the aircraft has yet been found," French Foreign Minster Laurent Fabius told journalists in Paris, Reuters reports. "The plane probably crashed," he added.

An airport official in Burkina Fasa NBC news earlier that the airplane had crashed after altering its route because of a storm.

The flight with 116 passengers aboard was on its way from Burkina Faso to the Algerian capital when it disappeared from the radar.

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24/07/2014 16:55 BST
Mariela Castro: 'Here I Am'

According to TeleSur TV, Mariela Castro reacted on Thursday to (false) rumors she was aboard the crashed Air Algerie plane. "Maybe the media that published the news needed some publicity, but here I am," Castro reportedly said.

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There is growing confusion whether Mariela Castro, the daughter of Cuban leader Raul Castro, was aboard the Air Algerie plane. NBC's reporter in Havana, Mary Murray, reportedly personally saw the woman this morning.

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The plane would have crashed in the Tilemsi region, 70 kms from Gao.
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Ouagadougou airport says Mariela Castro, the niece of Cuban leader Fidel Castro, was aboard the missing plane.

Among the passengers of flight AH5017, there were 2 European officials with French nationality who were stationed in Ouagadougo and Mariela Castro, the niece of Fidel Castro, former head of state of Cuba.
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Ouagadougou airport released a map it says shows the probably crash site of the missing Algerian plane.


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The airport in Ouagadougou where the plane departed from posted a statement with the passengers' nationalities on its Facebook page. (Translated from French below)

The aircraft was in the vicinity of Kidal (Mali) where French troops with air support stationed in the city (occupied a few months ago by rebels), have already begun reconnaissance flights.

The nationalities reported by the passengers is as follows (close to a third, however, hold dual nationality)

20 Lebanese passengers
28 Burkinabe passengers
51 French passengers
5 Canadian passengers
4 German passengers
1 Luxembourgeois passenger
1 Swiss passenger
6 Spanish crew members

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Officials tell CBS News Air Algerie plane has crashed.

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24/07/2014 14:47 BST
Map Showing Planned Route
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24/07/2014 13:57 BST
Official: Plane Has Crashed

Reuters reports that an Algerian aviation official has said the missing plane has crashed.

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From Reuters:

PARIS, July 24 (Reuters) - Two French fighter jets based in West Africa have been deployed to try and locate a missing Air Algerie flight, a French army spokesman said on Thursday.

"Two Mirage 2000 jets based in Africa were dispatched to try to locate the Air Algerie plane that disappeared on Thursday," French army spokesman Gilles Jaron said. "They will search an area from its last known destination along its probable route."

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Algerian Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal said that the plane disappeared around 3a.m Thursday. The last contact with the plane took place 10 minutes before its disappearance in the Gao region.

"There were 119 passengers on board the plane, including the Spanish crew. Searches are in progress with the relevant authorities. The victims are of multiple nationalities," he said without giving more detail. A representative of Air Algerie, Zohir Houari, confirmed that the disappearance took place above Gao, an area where militant group The Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MOJWA) remains active.

--Said Djaafer

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