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Plane wreckage found in Mali

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The wreckage of an Air Algerie plane missing with 116 people on board has been found in Mali near the Burkina Faso border.

“We have found the Algerian plane. The wreck has been located … 50 kilometres north of the Burkina Faso border” in the Malian region of Gossi, General Gilbert Diendiere of the Burkina Faso army said on Thursday.

“At the moment we have no further information on (the fate of) the passengers but our teams are hard at work,” he said.

Diendiere gave no indication as to what may have caused the plane to crash.

A witness had earlier reported seeing the plane “falling” in the Gossi region.

Flight AH5017, which took off from Ouagadougou bound for Algiers with 51 French nationals aboard, according to Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, went missing early Thursday amid reports of heavy storms, company sources and officials said.

The airline said there were also 24 Burkinabe, eight Lebanese, six Algerians, six Spanish, five Canadians, four Germans and two Luxembourg nationals on board.

The flight had been presumed lost even before French President Francois Hollande appeared on TV to announce: “Everything leads us to believe that the plane has crashed.”

He said the plane’s Spanish crew had signalled they were altering course “due to particularly difficult weather conditions”.

“Contact was lost with the McDonnell Douglas 83 at 1.47am (local time), a little after the pilots said they were diverting … due to meteorological reasons,” Fabius said earlier.

Algerian radio quoted Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal as saying the plane dropped off the radar at Gao, 500km from the Algerian border.

Mali, Algeria, Niger and France co-ordinated their search efforts under the umbrella of the French-led military intervention in Mali, Operation Serval.

“Even though the aircraft was above Mali it was in airspace managed by the control centre in Niamey in Niger,” an air traffic control official said.

Aviation sources said the MD-83 was leased from Spanish company Swiftair.

Its six-member crew were all Spanish, said Spain’s airline pilots’ union Sepla, and Swiftair confirmed the aircraft went missing less than an hour after take-off.

“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,” an airline source said.

“Contact was lost after the change of course.”

The plane had apparently been given the “all clear” following an inspection in France only this week, French civil aviation authority DGAC said.

In France, two crisis units were set up, one at the DGAC and another at the foreign ministry, in addition to two further centres at Charles De Gaulle airport in Paris and at Marseille airport.

DGAC said many passengers had been due to catch onward connecting flights to Paris and Marseille.

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