The wreckage of Air Algerie Flight 5017 (AH5017) has been found in a “disintegrated state” in the Gossi region of northeastern Mali, near the border of Burkina Faso, according to French President Francois Hollande.
Speaking Friday after a meeting with senior cabinet officials, Hollande said a French military detachment had been sent to secure the crash site and had recovered the aircraft's black boxes.
While the cause of the crash remains unknown, weather is a factor being considered. French officials say they believe the aircraft broke up only upon impact with the ground, rather than in mid-air.
Contact with the MD-83, operated by Spanish wet-lease company Swiftair on behalf of Air Algerie, was lost on Thursday morning 50 minutes after take-off from Ouagadougou en route to Algiers. Among the aircraft's 117 passengers and six crew, 54 French were aboard.
Hollande said Thursday he had decided to mobilize French armed forces deployed in the area as part of Operation Barkhane in Mali. However, French Transport Secretary Frederic Cuvillier said officials had rejected the possibility of a surface-to-air missile strike as a possible cause.
Air Algerie said contact with AH5017 was lost just as air traffic control advised the aircraft to change course due to extreme weather conditions over Africa.
The crash is the third within a week following
The aircraft involved in the Mali crash has been confirmed as EC-LTV, which was first delivered to Heliopolis Airlines in 1996. It later flew for and Air Austral before Swiftair added it to its fleet in 2012. Air Algerie had an agreement with Swiftair to wet-lease the aircraft from June 22 until September 20.
Swiftair has a fleet of more than 30 aircraft including 727s, , MD-83s, ATR42/72s, 120s and Metroliners.
According to the Aviation Safety Network, Air Algerie has had eight fatal crashes since 1960. In 2003, an Air Algerie Boeing 737-200 crashed shortly after take-off from Tamanrasset airport. One of the engines had failed, the aircraft subsequently lost altitude and speed. 103 people on board were killed.
The U.S. (FAA) warned airlines in 2013 of threats in Mali: "U.S. flight operators should avoid operating into, out of, within or over Mali at or below FL240 due to insurgent activity. There is risk to the safety of U.S. civil flights operating into, out of, within or over Mali from small arms, rocket-propelled grenades, anti-aircraft fire and shoulder-fired, man-portable air defense systems (manpads)."
France recently ended combat operations against Islamic rebels in Mali under the French-led Operation Serval. But in July, Hollande unveiled plans to expand the military's presence in the region under Operation Barkhane. The mission is to start in August with a counter-terrorism force of 3,000 soldiers.