Algiers: An Air Algerie flight that went missing en route from Burkina Faso to Algiers has crashed, an Algerian aviation official told Reuters on Thursday.
“I can confirm that it has crashed,” the official said, declining to give details of where the plane was or what caused the accident.
The flight en route from Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso to Algiers went missing with 110 passengers and six crew members on board, almost half of them French citizens, officials said on Thursday.
Earlier, Burkino Faso transport minister Jean Bertin Ouedrago had said that the aircraft was asked to change route at 0138 GMT because of a storm in the area.
Two French fighter jets based in the region were dispatched to try to locate the airliner along its probable route, according to a French army spokesman. Niger security sources said planes flew 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 fate of the flight and where it might be.
Swiftair, the private Spanish company that owns the aircraft, confirmed it had lost contact with the MD-83 operated by Air Algerie.
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 spokeswoman for SEPLA, Spain’s pilots union, said the six crew were from Spain. She could not give any further details.
Swiftair said on its website the aircraft took off from Burkina Faso at 0117 GMT and was supposed to land in Algiers at 0510 GMT but never reached its destination.
An Algerian aviation official said the last contact Algerian authorities had with the missing Air Algerie aircraft was at 0155 GMT when it was flying over Gao, Mali.
Aviation authorities in Burkina say they handed the flight to the control tower in Niamey, Niger, at 1.38 am. They said the last contact with the flight was just after 4.30 am.
Burkina Faso minister Ouedrago said the flight asked the control tower in Niamey to change route at 0138 GMT because of a storm in the Sahara.
However, a source in the control tower in Niamey, who declined to be identified, said it had not been contacted by the plane, which in theory should have flown over Mali.
Burkinabe authorities have set up a crisis unit in Ouagadougou airport to provide information to families of people on the flight.
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.
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 & 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 spokesman 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.