Air Algerie flight AH5017, en route from Burkina Faso to Algiers and carrying 116 people, has crashed, an Algerian aviation official told Reuters.
“I can confirm that it has crashed,” the official said, declining to give details of where the plane was or what caused the accident.
Here is what we know so far:
• Swiftair, the Spanish airline operated by Air Algerie, said it lost contact with MD83 aircraft — with 110 passengers and six crew members — about 50 minutes after takeoff from Ougadougou, the capital of the west African nation. The four-hour flight was scheduled to arrive in Algiers at 5:40 a.m. local time.
• Agence France-Presse reports that 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.”
• Burkino Faso Transport Minister Jean Bertin Ouedrago told Reuters the aircraft was asked to change its route because of a storm in the area. Northern Mali was hit with a powerful thunderstorm overnight.
• An airline source told AFP that contact with the aircraft was lost while it was over northern Mali, considered a “high risk” flight zone for U.S. airlines. But a senior French official told Associated Press that it is unlikely shoulder-fired weapons used by fighters in the region could shoot down an aircraft at cruising altitude.
• Issa Saly Maiga, head of Mali’s National Civil Aviation Agency, said that a search was under way for the missing flight. “We do not know if the plane is Malian territory,” Maiga told Reuters. “Aviation authorities are mobilized in all the countries concerned: Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger, Algeria and even Spain.”
• Fox News reports that French fighter jets have located the plane’s wreckage in Mali. Earlier, there were reports that the crash occured in Niger.
• The Associated Press reported the flight was carrying 51 French nationals, 27 Burkina Faso nationals, eight Lebanese, six Algerians, five Canadians, two Luxemburg nationals, one Swiss, one Belgian, one Egyptian, one Ukrainian, one Nigerian, one Cameroonian and one Malian. The six crew members are Spanish, according to the Spanish pilots’ union.
• ABC News reports that the airport’s Facebook page identified one of the passengers as Mariela Castro, niece of Fidel Castro and a prominent gay rights advocate. But the Telegraph later said the report was false.
• The Ougadougou airport’s website published a passenger list that indicates 114 people were on board the plane when it crashed.
• Flight AH5017’s aircraft — owned by Swiftair but operated by Air Algerie — was 18 years old. According to aviation-safety.net, the plane suffered loss of power in the left engine during a June 2004 flight. Six months later, blade failure caused the aircraft to experience left engine failure while climbing at 15,000 feet. Neither incident resulted in an accident.
• Patrick Gandil, head of the French civil aviation authority, told the Telegraph that the plane was was checked in Marseille “two or three days ago” and found to be “in good condition.” It had logged than 37,800 hours of flight time and made more than 32,100 takeoffs and landings, the Telegraph said.
• Air Algerie posted a phone number for families of passengers to call for information on the missing plane: +34 900 264 270.
• Below, an undated image of an MD-83:
A Swiftair MD-83 airplane is seen in this undated photo. (Reuters/Xavier Larrosa)
• The crash is the third commercial air disaster in two weeks, and second in as many days. On Wednesday, a TransAsia Airways plane crashed in Taiwan while attempting an emergency landing in stormy weather, killing 48. On July 17, a Malaysia Airlines plane was downed over Ukraine, killing 298.
• Even before Thursday’s crash, commercial passenger aviation was in the midst of its deadliest year since 2010. If there are no survivors from the Air Algerie accident, then some 719 people will have been killed or are presumed dead in five major commercial passenger crashes so far this year. An average of 517 air-travel passengers were killed over the prior five years, according to statistics from the International Air Transport Association, an industry group. This year’s spike comes after a record low 210 deaths in 2013.
• William J. McGee, former FAA dispatcher and airline industry expert, told Yahoo News that he can’t recall a week of crashes like this one.
“The pace of the last seven days is off the charts, no doubt,” McGee said. “If you step back and look at the three events, we’re still learning. You have one that was shot down, one that never should have been flying in weather. And now, you’ve got one that is just plain lost over one of the most remote areas technologically in the world. I don’t see any threads quite frankly other than they happened within days of each other.
“While I can’t remember a week like this,” he added, “the first missing Malaysian flight [MH370] from March has stayed in people’s consciousness more than others. The missing flight has really just spooked the whole world. A lot of it has to do with air phobia, fear of flying. As we’re speaking, people have died on highways across the United States that we’re never going to talk about. But it doesn’t generate news coverage in the same way as this.”
With Yahoo News’ Siemond Chan, Eric Pfeiffer and Jason Sickles contributing reporting.