France’s transport minister said Friday it was extremely unlikely, and even “out of the question” that any of the 116 people on board an Air Algerie plane that crashed over Mali had survived.
“Given the state of the plane (wreck), it is very unlikely, even out of the question, that there are any survivors,” Frederic Cuvillier said.
He’s also ruled out the possiblity the plane was shot down by rebels in Mali’s restive north.
“We have excluded from the start the possibility of a strike from the ground,” he said.
French military forces are enroute to the site where the jet, which was carrying at least 51 French nationals, crashed.
French Interior Minister, Bernard Cazeneuve, said weather was the most probable cause of the crash although authorities were not excluding other potential causes.
Flight AH5017, which took off from Ouagadougou bound for Algiers went missing early Thursday amid reports of heavy storms, company sources and officials said.
The airline said there were also 24 Burkinabe, eight Lebanese, six Algerians, six Spanish, five Canadians, four Germans and two Luxembourg nationals on board.
The wreckage of the plane was found in Mali near the Burkina Faso border.
“We have found the Algerian plane. The wreck has been located … 50 kilometres north of the Burkina Faso border” in the Malian region of Gossi, General Gilbert Diendiere of the Burkina Faso army said.
“At the moment we have no further information on (the fate of) the passengers but our teams are hard at work,” he said.
Diendiere gave no indication as to what may have caused the plane to crash.
A witness had earlier reported seeing the plane “falling” in the Gossi region.
Algerian radio quoted Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal as saying the plane dropped off the radar at Gao, 500km from the Algerian border.
Mali, Algeria, Niger and France co-ordinated their search efforts under the umbrella of the French-led military intervention in Mali, Operation Serval.
“Even though the aircraft was above Mali it was in airspace managed by the control centre in Niamey in Niger,” an air traffic control official said.
Aviation sources said the MD-83 was leased from Spanish company Swiftair.
Its six-member crew were all Spanish, said Spain’s airline pilots’ union Sepla, and Swiftair confirmed the aircraft went missing less than an hour after take-off.
“The plane was not far from the Algerian frontier when the crew was asked to make a detour because of poor visibility and to prevent the risk of collision with another aircraft on the Algiers-Bamako route,” an airline source said.
“Contact was lost after the change of course.”
The plane had apparently been given the “all clear” following an inspection in France only this week, French civil aviation authority DGAC said.
In France, two crisis units were set up, one at the DGAC and another at the foreign ministry, in addition to two further centres at Charles De Gaulle airport in Paris and at Marseille airport.
DGAC said many passengers had been due to catch onward connecting flights to Paris and Marseille.