Over 100 missing after airliner disappears over northern Mali

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An Air Algerie flight carrying 116 people which disappeared from radar over northern Mali “probably crashed”, according to the plane’s owner and government officials in France and Burkina Faso.

Air navigation services lost track of the MD-83 about 50 minutes after take-off from Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, at 0155 GMT, the official Algerian news agency APS said.

French foreign minister Laurent Fabius said Air Algerie Flight 5017 had “probably crashed”.

Mr Fabius said “no trace” of the plane had been found. Two French fighter jets were 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 were on
the plane along with 27 Burkina Faso nationals and passengers from a dozen other countries. The flight crew was Spanish.

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

French transport minister Frederic Cuvillier said the Air Algerie flight vanished over northern Mali. He spoke from a crisis centre set up in the French foreign ministry. Mr Cuvillier did not 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 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 was not clear why airline or government officials did not make it public earlier.

The flight path of the plane from Ouagadougou to Algiers was not 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 the 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 fighters in Mali primarily had shoulder-fired weapons – believed to be not capabale of hitting a passenger plane flying at cruising altitude.