An Air Algerie flight carrying 116 people from Burkina Faso to Algeria’s capital has disappeared from radar over northern Mali after heavy rains were reported, according to the owner and and government officials in France and Burkina Faso.
Air navigation services lost track of the MD-83 about 50 minutes after takeoff from Ougadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, at 1.55am GMT on Thursday, the official Algerian news agency APS said.
A source in Mali told AFP news agency that contact with the plane was lost over Gao in north Mali.
Burkina Faso’s transport minister said 50 French nationals were among those onboard, along with 24 Burkina Faso nationals, six Lebanese, five Canadians, four Algerians, two Luxemburg nationals, one Swiss, one Nigerian, one Cameroonian and one Malian.
Transport Minister Jean Bertin Ouedraogo also said the plane sent its last message about 1.30am GMT, asking Niger air control to change its route because of heavy rains in the area.
Frederic Cuvillier, the French transport minister, said the plane vanished over northern Mali.
The plane had been missing for hours before the news was made public. It wasn’t immediately clear why airline or government officials didn’t make it public earlier.
Air Algerie Flight 5017 was being operated by Spanish airline Swiftair, the company said in a statement. The Spanish pilots’ union said the plane belonged to Swiftair and it was operated by a Spanish crew.
The flight path of the plane from Ouagadougou to Algiers wasn’t immediately clear. Ougadougou is in a nearly straight line south of Algiers, passing over Mali where unrest continues in the north.
Northern Mali fell under control of ethnic Tuareg separatists and then al-Qaeda-linked fighters following a military coup in 2012.
A French-led intervention last year scattered the al-Qaeda groups, but the Tuaregs have pushed back against the authority of the Bamako-based government.
A senior French official said it seems unlikely that fighters in Mali had the kind of weaponry that could shoot down a plane.
Swiftair said it has not been possible to make contact with the plane and was trying to ascertain what had happened. It said the crew included two pilots and four cabin staff. Al Jazeera