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Missing Air Algerie plane confirmed crashed, says official

Hamid Ould Ahmed

The missing Air Algerie plane has been confirmed by Algerian officials to have crashed en route to its destination.

It is still unclear what might of happened to the aircraft, or whether there were casualties. (AFP)

An Air Algerie flight crashed on Thursday en route from Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso to Algiers with 110 passengers on board, an Algerian aviation official said.

There were few clear indications of what might of happened to the aircraft, or whether there were casualties, but Burkino Faso Transport Minister Jean Bertin Ouedrago said the pilots had asked to change route during the flight because of a storm in the area.

“I can confirm that it has crashed,” the Algerian official told Reuters, declining to be identified or give any details about what had happened to the aircraft on its way north.

Almost half of the passengers were French citizens, an airline official said.

Two French fighter jets based in the region have been dispatched to try locate the airliner along its probable route, a French army spokesperson said. Niger security sources said planes were flying over the border region with Mali to search for the flight.

Algeria’s state news agency APS said authorities lost contact with flight AH 5017 an hour after it took off from Burkina Faso, but other officials gave differing accounts of the times of contact, adding to confusion about the plane’s fate.

Swiftair, the private Spanish company that owns the plane, confirmed it had lost contact with the MD-83 operated by Air Algerie, which it said was carrying 110 passengers and six crew.

Powerful sandstorm
A diplomat in the Malian capital Bamako said that the north of the country – which lies on the plane’s likely flight path – was struck by a powerful sandstorm overnight.

Whatever the cause, another plane crash is likely to add to nerves in the industry after a Malaysia Airlines plane was downed over Ukraine last week, a TransAsia Airways crashed off Taiwan during a thunderstorm on Wednesday and airlines cancelled flights into Tel Aviv due to the conflict in Gaza.

An Air Algerie representative in Burkina Faso, Kara Terki, told a news conference that all the passengers on the plane were in transit, either for Europe, the Middle East or Canada.

He said the passenger list included 50 French, 24 Burkinabe, eight Lebanese, four Algerians, two from Luxembourg, one Belgian, one Swiss, one Nigerian, one Cameroonian, one Ukrainian and one Romanian. Lebanese officials said there were at least 10 Lebanese citizens on the flight.

A spokesperson for Spain’s pilots union, said the six crew were from Spain. She could not give any further details.

Relatively clean safety record
Aviation websites said the missing aircraft, one of four MD-83s owned by Swiftair, was 18-years-old. The aircraft’s two engines are made by Pratt and Whitney, a unit of United Technologies.

US planemaker McDonnell Douglas, now part of Boeing , stopped producing the MD-80 airliner family in 1999 but it remains in widespread use. According to British consultancy Flightglobal Ascend, there are 482 MD-80 aircraft in operation, many of them in the United States.

“Boeing is aware of the report [on the missing aircraft]. We are awaiting additional information,” a spokesperson for the planemaker said.

Swiftair has a relatively clean safety record, with five accidents since 1977, two of which caused a total of eight deaths, according to the Washington-based Flight Safety Foundation.

Air Algerie’s last major accident was in 2003 when one of its planes crashed shortly after take-off from the southern city of Tamanrasset, killing 102 people. In February this year, 77 people died when an Algerian military transport plane crashed into a mountain in eastern Algeria. – Reuters

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