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This picture taken on May 16, 2014 shows an MD-83 aircraft of Spanish company Swiftair landing at Zaventem Airport in Brussels. (AFP)
AMIR OFFERS CONDOLENCES TO FRANCE, SPAIN, ALGERIA 116 feared dead in Air Algerie crash

ALGIERS, July 24, (Agencies): An Air Algerie plane missing since early Thursday over Mali with 116 passengers and crew, including 50 French nationals, on board probably crashed, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said. “Despite intensive searches, no trace of the plane has been found as we speak,” he said in Paris. “The plane has probably crashed. The searches are focusing at this stage on a vast strip of Malian territory around the region of Gao,” in the north of the west African nation, he said. Flight AH5017, which originated in Ouagadougou and was bound for Algiers, went missing in the early morning amid reports of heavy storms, company sources and officials said.

 
“Contact was lost with the McDonnell Douglas 83 at 01:47, a little after the pilots said they were diverting from the route due to meteorological reasons,” Fabius said. Algerian Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal was earlier cited as saying by Algerian radio that the plane dropped off the radar at Gao, 500 kms (300 miles) from the Algerian border. The airline said it had 50 French, 24 from Burkino Faso, eight Lebanese, six Algerians, six Spanish, five Canadians, four Germans and two Luxembourg nationals on board. Fabius said there were 51 French on board.
 
Aviation sources told AFP 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 takeoff. Air Algerie said the passenger manifest also included one person each from Belgium, Cameroon, Egypt, Mali, Nigeria, Romania, Switzerland and Ukraine as well as “three nationalities yet to be determined.” 
 
Meanwhile, His Highness the Amir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah on Thursday sent cables of condolence to French President Francois Hollande and Spanish King Felipe VI. His Highness the Amir also sent a cable of condolence to Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika over the victims of the Algerian passenger plane crash. In his cables, His Highness the Amir voiced heartfelt sorrow and condolence to the families of the victims.
His Highness the Crown Prince Sheikh Nawaf Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah and His Highness the Prime Minister Sheikh Jaber Mubarak Al-Hamad Al-Sabah sent similar cables to the French president, Spanish king and Algerian president.
 
There were few clear indications of what might have happened to flight AH5017, or whether there were casualties, but Burkina Faso’s transport minister said the crew asked to adjust their route at 0138 GMT because of a storm in the area. “I can confirm that it has crashed,” the Algerian official told Reuters, declining to be identified or give any details about what had happened to the aircraft on its way north. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said the Air Algerie flight was still missing, but had probably crashed. “Despite intensive search efforts no trace of the aircraft has yet been found,” Fabius told journalists in Paris. “The plane probably crashed.” French President Francois Hollande cancelled a planned visit to overseas territories and said all military means on the ground would be used to locate the aircraft.
 
Two French Mirage warplanes have been scouring the vast desert area around the northern Malian city of Gao for the aircraft, which had 51 French nationals on board. “The search will take as long as needed,” Hollande told reporters. “Everything must be done to find this plane. We cannot identify the causes of what happened,” he said. Niger security sources said planes were flying over the border region with Mali to search for the flight. Two Mali-based diplomats said in addition to the area around Gao, where the plane is believed to have last been in contact with authorities, searcher were also scouring the rugged region around Aguelhoc towards the Algerian borders.
 
An aid worker in Mali who asked not to be named said his organisation had received several calls from residents based in the villages of Tessalit and Tinzawaten in the northeastern region of Kidal after hearing a loud explosion. It was not immediately clear if this was linked to the crash. But searching in northern Mali will be complex task. The area where the flight is suspected to have crashed is a vast, sparsely inhabited region of scrubland and desert dunes stretching to the foothills of the Adrar des Ifoghas mountains. It is a stronghold of Tuareg separatist rebels, who rose up against the government in early 2012, triggering an Islamist revolt that briefly seized control of northern Mali.
 
Security sources said the French military was leading the search in the difficult terrain. The Malian government, which is holding talks with the separatists in neighbouring Algeria, has only a weak presence in the region and relies on French and UN peacekeepers for aircraft and logistical support.
Whatever the cause, another plane crash is likely to add to nerves over flying after a Malaysia Airlines plane was downed over Ukraine last week, a TransAsia Airways crashed off Taiwan during a thunderstorm on Wednesday and airlines temporarily cancelled flights into Tel Aviv due to the conflict in Gaza.

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