A Nigerian was among 116 people feared dead in a passenger plane that crashed on a flight from Burkina Faso to the Algerian capital, Algiers, yesterday.The pilot had contacted Niger’s control tower in Niamey to change course because of a storm, according to reports. But contact with Flight AH 5017, chartered from Spanish airline Swiftair, was lost about 50 minutes after take-off from Ouagadougou over the Sahara as it crossed Mali in bad weather, Air Algerie said.
Burkina Faso Transport Minister Jean Bertin Ouedrago said it asked to change route at 0138 GMT 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.
Reports quoted a diplomat in the Malian capital Bamako as saying that the north of the country which lies on the plane’s likely flight path was struck by a powerful sandstorm overnight. Earlier, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius had said the plane, which has 50 French citizens aboard, “probably crashed”. Speaking in Paris, Mr Fabius said: “Despite intensive search efforts no trace of the aircraft has yet been found. The plane probably crashed.” He said French Mirage fighter planes were scouring the area.
French media however, reported that soldiers had found wreckage in Tilemsi, central Mali, but this was not confirmed. 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. 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 canceled flights into Tel Aviv due to the conflict in Gaza.
An Air Algerie spokesman quoted by Reuters said the provisional passenger list included 50 French citizens, 24 people from Burkina Faso, eight Lebanese, four Algerians, two from Luxembourg, one Belgian, one Swiss, one Nigerian, one Cameroonian, one Ukrainian and one Romanian.
Officials in Lebanon, however, said there were at least 10 Lebanese citizens on the flight.
The six crew members are Spanish, according to the Spanish pilots’ union. Algerian Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal reportedly told Algerian radio: “The plane disappeared at Gao (in Mali), 500km (300 miles) from the Algerian border.”
In February a military plane in Algeria crashed, killing 77 people on board. The Hercules C-130 crashed into a mountain in Oum al-Bouaghi province, en route to Constantine, in bad weather conditions.[The Sun]