French President Francois Hollande says there were no survivors in the Air Algerie plane crash in remote eastern Mali, as France deployed troops to guard the wreckage.
A black box from the plane that had been carrying 116 people, including 51 French citizens, was recovered by soldiers, Hollande said on Friday after a crisis meeting at Elysee Palace in Paris.
“All my thoughts are turned towards the victims and their families. We are on their side,” broadcaster BFMTV quoted Hollande as saying.
A French army spokesman in Mali said about 100 troops in 30 vehicles were involved in securing the desert crash site in Gossi, near the Burkina Faso border.
The McDonnell Douglas MD-83 aircraft carrying 110 passengers and six crew members departed from Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, early on Thursday en route to Algiers.
About 50 minutes after take-off, air traffic controllers lost contact with flight AH5017 after pilots requested their route be diverted due to storms.
French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said “the hypothesis of difficult weather is the likeliest” reason for the crash of the plane, owned by Spanish company Swiftair and leased to Air Algerie.
“The pieces of the plane are concentrated in a limited space, but it is too early to draw conclusions. There are hypotheses, especially climate-related, but we do not dismiss any of them,” Hollande said.
It has been suggested the plane could have been shot down by rebels seeking the independence of northern Mali, but French experts said a plane would normally be out of reach of rockets 50 minutes after take-off.
The French government said the wreck of the plane had been found with the help of a French drone. The Malian government said shepherds first spotted charred bodies and debris and informed the authorities.
France deployed two Mirage 2000 fighter jets and a drone to search for the wreckage on Thursday, Lieutenant Colonel Michel Sabatier told DPA. Those aircraft were later joined by helicopter crews.
In addition to the French victims, a list published on the website of Ouagadougou airport gave the following tally for the nationality of the passengers: Burkina Faso, 26; Lebanon, 20; Canada, 5; Germany, 4; and one each from Luxembourg and Switzerland.
The six-person crew were Spanish.
France launched a military operation to defeat al-Qaeda-affiliated rebels in northern Mali in a UN-backed military intervention in January 2013.
There are 1700 French troops stationed in the landlocked West African country.
While most of the region has been restored to Malian government control, French and Malian forces continue to come under attack from residual insurgent elements.